South End Seniors Zoom In: Popular Group Had to Stop Meeting, But That Hasn’t Stopped Them During Pandemic

It was several weeks ago that the Haley House in the South End announced they would not be able to host the South End Seniors group for their weekly roundtable.

The lively group meets every Tuesday there for great discussions and socializing as well. But the closure left a void, and many in the group had already retreated due to concerns over exposure to COVID-19. Those retreats often led to isolated homes where maybe they were alone or only with a few people.

For many, it was a difficult transition.

But it hasn’t stopped them from connecting regularly by e-mail chats on everything from humor to serious medical questions to poetry to politics and even whether or handling the mail is safe. Each member of the group has remained active via e-mail, though some more than others.

Late last week and this week, that e-mail discussion group gave way to the first-ever South End Seniors Zoom meeting – an online discussion group that allows people to talk and see one another. While the e-mails were great, Ben and Jane Seigel said neighbors and friends were missing the more personal contact of ‘seeing’ one another.

On Friday last week, they had 33 members show up for their first Zoom meeting, and while it was a learning curve and a technological lesson, the exercise was well-received.

“The e-mails have been fun and that’s gone on a long time, and the first Zoom was very successful,” said Ben Seigel. “People were certainly brought together and they looked forward to doing it again even if it wasn’t quite the same as face-to-face at the Haley House.”

Added Jane Seigel, “There are a number of people that live alone and that’s really difficult now. The things people feel the most in our group is fear.

“And the uncertainty of what’s happening and how we get a grip on what we’re supposed to do. The South End Seniors are a resilient group that can care for people when they need it,” added Ben.

Maggie Huff-Rousselle said she has been using Zoom now with the Seniors and a number of other groups around Boston – including some things for her work. She said it can be tiring and a little clunky at first, but it is enjoyable to have contact with others when things feel isolated.

“I don’t know how many people were on the Zoom meeting Ben led Tuesday morning, but I think there were 30 or more,” she said. “It was jolly but a bit chaotic. It seemed everyone really appreciated the sense of community that ‘seeing’ and hearing one another created via Zoom. I felt some of those who live alone…were particularly appreciative…I think others may be feeling more isolated than I am, although I am also not leaving my apartment – not even walking lately. If anything, I feel some of the on-line frenzy with Zoom is a kind of mild hysteria about the upheaval in our world.”

Said Ann Hershfang, “It was magical to be able to meet without meeting. And to learn to Zoom in the process. And, as someone said, the coffee is much better.”

Arnold Zack said he definitely enjoyed the time online with others and found it filled a gap, and showed how important connecting with one’s friends and neighbors actually is. He added that it has also sparked some interesting poetry from the group.

“It filled a gap in our neighborhood since we had come to rely on Tuesdays at 10:15 to meet outside Haley House and carry on personal and group conversations before during and after that hour,” he said. “I think we all missed bumping into one another on the street and saw this as a welcomed return to normalcy. We all wanted more, so we’ll reconvene to Zoom again this Friday. We needed it.”

Having learned how to use the technology now, he said he and his wife actually scheduled a Zoom cocktail party with friends this week.

“And we don’t have to go shopping for drinks and snacks to make it work,” he said with a laugh.

Jane Seigel said learning a new digital technology in the process was also very valuable. She said they are also using it for book talks, for visiting with their family and for private conversations with friends.

“People jumped on and they learned a new digital technology at the same time and that was good,” she said. “It will be used in many ways now I am sure.”

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