Senior Living



Many older volunteers waiting out COVID-19 and looking forward to serving again

By Steven Goode, The Hartford Courant on

Published in Senior Living Features

HARTFORD, Conn. — Carol Pash just wants to play the piano again.

Pash, 89, has been volunteering a few days a week at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield, Mass., for more than 10 years, much of it playing the piano for patients and their families.

But that all came to a halt in March when the coronavirus ended her visits to the hospital.

"Playing the piano at Shriner's is what's really keeping me going," said Pash, an 89-year-old Agawam, Mass., resident. "It keeps me active."

Hospital officials say that they have suffered the loss of about 70 volunteers, who did everything from light office duties, to working the cafeteria cash registers and playing the piano as a result of the pandemic.

The situation at the hospital is a snapshot of what some volunteer organizations in Connecticut are experiencing as well, either because they are not allowed to offer their services or because older members are concerned about COVID-19- related health concerns.

In Bloomfield, the Lions Club has postponed a long-running annual eye exam at local public schools, giving them to up to 1,000 students a year.

"We couldn't figure out a way to protect the children and our members," said Sydney Schulmann, a past state chairman of the organization.

Schulmann said members of his organization, where the average age is 55, have pulled back from volunteering out of concerns for the health of themselves or older family members. They have lost some members permanently.

The Bloomfield club had 31 members but that has been reduced to 26, partly as a result of the virus, Schulmann said.

"People don't want to take the chance," he said.

The pandemic has also hurt large money-making events sponsored by Lions Clubs around the state. The Hebron Harvest Fair, which would have celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and the Berlin Fair were both canceled this year. The events provide the majority of funding to local groups that the organizations support.


John Zarotney, president of the Berlin Lions Club, said that despite the cancellation of their fair this year, the club was able to meet its obligations to local groups.

"But if it goes into next year, it could have an effect," Zarotney said, adding that members of his club have also expressed concerns about exposure to the virus.

At the Shriner's Sphinx Temple in the neighboring town of Newington, fundraising has come to a halt because the organization's main events have been shut down.

"We go to parades all around the state and there are no parades," said Eric Pogg, membership coordinator for the temple, who added that their "all you can eat" events also had to be canceled.

"Bringing in money is definitely a challenge," Pogg said.

Pogg said the group has also had to suspend its practice of providing transportation for patients and their families to Shriner's hospitals for treatment as they develop safety guidelines.

"I'm a driver and I'm 51, but some of the older ones may or may not want to go back," said Pogg, who hopes to have the safety protocols in place by the end of the year.

Schulmann said his organization is also trying to move forward with some activities, even with diminished member participation.

But Pash, who has had three planned returns to the hospital to begin playing again, still waits.

"I have no idea when I'm going back," she said. "I really miss it."

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