It was a perfect chilly fall morning when the Taft Older Adult Center Walking Group began assembling outside the entrance to Central Park at 110th and 5th Avenue. They chatted in Spanish as Aging Services Caseworker Maritza Martinez worked her cellphone.
“I call them every time to remind them. Sometimes they say it’s too cold and I tell them ‘Put a sweater on and let’s go!’” she said with a grin.
When seven walkers had arrived, they headed into the park. Everyone went at their own pace. Eventually they emerged back onto 5th Avenue and kept going south, strung out in twos and threes with as much as a city block in between. This was no mere walk in the park. Today they were headed to 90th Street and back—more than two miles. The group meets twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, and sometimes they stay out walking for an hour and a half.
The members say they get a lot out of the group: access to the outdoors, a chance to socizialize, and a workout.
“To me, it’s the most complete exercise—it works all the muscles,” said Sonia Aguasvivas, a retired teacher. “I try not to book any other appointments at this time so I can go.”
The walking group is a fixture of our Older Adult Center at the Taft Houses in East Harlem, part of the NYCHA public housing system. Taft is the newest member of the Isaacs Center family—and it didn’t get off to an easy start.
The Isaacs Center took over managing the space after the previous management opted to shut it down. “We started in January of 2020,” recalled Aaron Rooney, who oversees all programs for older adults at Isaacs and our partner, Goddard Riverside. “We opened up and were serving meals and had programs in place by March. And then COVID hit.”
The programs, including case management and nursing, all went online so members could continue participating safely. Other than monthly food pantries, not much was happening in the Center’s physical space. When it came time to reopen, it needed significant cleaning and repairs.
“There have been a lot of challenges, but I have a great team and I’m thankful for that,” said center director Winnie Chan.
Now the center is poised to expand its services. It’s planning to increase case management for older adults—that is, help accessing government benefits, plus support and coaching to deal with a wide variety of issues. It’s also working on adding a telehealth program that will enable members to meet with their healthcare providers remotely.
“It may be a model that could be replicated. It’s all about breaking down the technological barriers and giving people the ability to see their doctor—not only teaching them but giving them the space at the Center to do it,” explained Rooney.
“It could be a very exciting year for Taft.”