MOUNT VERNON — After nearly 16 months of separation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a group has reunited at the Mount Vernon Senior Center.
For members of the Jolly Time Dancers, the group is their support system. It meets weekly at the center for two hours of ballroom dancing, listening to live music from local bands and catching up with close friends.
“Music, dancing, family. We’re just a good group of people,” said regular Doris Patterson.
Patterson has been dancing with this group since 1999, when its weekly gatherings filled Hillcrest Lodge in Mount Vernon. She considers the people she’s met over the years family, and they’re the reason she keeps coming back.
The pandemic caused the longest break the group has ever had to take, she said. And that break was especially hard on the group’s members.
For Patterson and her dance partners, the idea of seeing each other again was the thing that kept them going.
“It was something to look forward to,” she said. “I think a lot of us would have fallen into depression if they didn’t have this.”
Kristl Hobbs, coordinator for the senior center, said seeing her regulars again feels like an important step forward after nearly 16 months.
“It feels like a miracle that we’re open,” she said.
During the months senior centers were closed, Hobbs and her staff did the best they could to keep in contact with their seniors, she said. Despite these efforts, though, it’s clear their mental health suffered.
Being particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, seniors dealt with isolation, fear and depression. They were torn between the need to stay safe and the desire to socialize. Some caught COVID-19 despite their caution, and a few even died.
“We’ve lost four or five of our closest friends,” Hobbs said.
While it’s been great to see those who are coming back, about half of the center’s regulars are still too afraid or depressed to return, she said.
“They’ve said maybe September,” Hobbs said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Ken Kossman, another member of the Jolly Time Dancers, said the isolation was hard on him and his friends.
“We’ve all been suffering, because this is our outlet,” he said. “It was downright frustrating.”
He said members were able to call each other regularly, and once vaccinated have small backyard gatherings. But having the whole group together has been wonderful.
Gislinde Tatum, who has been involved in the group since 2003, echoed those sentiments. The first dance back felt like a family reunion, she said.
However, at the same time this and other activities are returning from a pandemic-caused hiatus, the highly-infectious delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading throughout the country.
While the vaccines are effective in preventing severe illness, there is evidence they are not preventing illness altogether.
Even with this news, Tatum said she didn’t hesitate to come back.
“I’m not afraid,” Tatum said. “I had my shot, and I trust everyone around me. They’re my family.”
The Jolly Time Dancers meet Thursdays at the center and dances are open to the public.