A virtual Center for Senior Enrichment painting event

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced all in-person events to be canceled, the Center for Senior Enrichment, sponsored by Jewish Family and Children’s Service, found a new way to bring its programs to the community.

And now, one year later, the virtual CSE is reaching thousands of older adults and will continue to offer online activities.

“When we had to quickly close our doors in March of 2020, I knew I wasn’t ready to say goodbye,” said Jennifer Brauner, CSE director. “With online platforms like Zoom I knew we could move our programming online and work diligently to ensure we could create a meaningful experience for all our participants.”

Brauner approached Ellie Schwartzberg, JFCS’ vice president of older adults and Jewish community services, with the idea of a virtual center instead. “Neither of us was really sure whether this would work or not,” Schwartzberg admits, “but it was certainly worth trying. And we’re so glad we did.”

Brauner set out to create the virtual CSE after having served for several years as site director of the CSE at The Palazzo in Phoenix.

At first, many of the seniors weren’t too sure about this “new-fangled” ZOOM, but with help from JFCS tech volunteers (and their own grandchildren) they became increasingly more comfortable with the platform and started looking forward to participating in programs. And with the convenience of logging in from home, many were participating in several events throughout the week.

Nearly all of the online programs are live, meaning the participants can make comments and ask questions. This interaction is key to making the connection a comfortable one.

Brauner said the program has gained participants each month and continues to expand its variety of offerings.

“I am beyond thrilled that this ‘gift’ I created for the community has been able to bring so much joy to these participants’ daily lives and to my own, as well. We have built friendships, learned new interests and, most importantly, supported one another during the pandemic. It has been an incredible year as we have grown together as a community.”

Participants continue to provide feedback about the programs. One participant wrote, “First of all, I must tell you how very much I am enjoying all the wonderful lectures on such a variety of subjects. I look forward to each one and several have stimulated further interest and research. I have been raving about them to one of my friends who is now very interested in getting more information and registering for them. Thank you again for helping to keep our senior minds active.”

The next event is a musical Chanukah celebration on Zoom on Dec. 3 at 11 a.m. Dr. Steve Rothstein of the Judaic Sacred Music Foundation and Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, a nationally touring Jewish musician, song leader and composer, will be leading the music. Participants can bring menorahs and come together as a community as we light Chanukah and Shabbat candles, sing holiday songs and discuss the meaning of Chanukah. The program will conclude with a mini concert and discussion featuring new Chanukah songs

and choral works. JN

The program is free and open to all older adults in Maricopa County, but registration is required. When you register, you will receive a Zoom link to enter the program. To register for this program and to see all the other options available, go to jfcsaz.org/events. Click on the day/event you’re interested in and you’ll be able to register.

Donations to the Center for Senior Enrichment are greatly appreciated and will help support ongoing programs offered to the community. To donate, go to jfcsaz.org/donate/donate-online-now/ then select “Center for Senior Enrichment” as your designation for support.

Abbie S. Fink is vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations.