Heart of Ida: Socially Distanced Tai Chi

While gyms and public exercise classes remained closed during the pandemic in 2020, Heart of Ida volunteers joined their members for socially distanced Tai Chi in front of their homes.

Since 2008, Long Beach’s Heart of Ida has helped older adults maintain their independence by providing free resources for its members, making their day-to-day just a little bit easier. In 2020, the nonprofit had to quickly rearrange its operations to account for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the beginning, we couldn’t go out to see our clients,” Dina Berg, founder and executive director, said. “There were all of these classes and services that were put on hold because now we were in a pandemic, and we just couldn’t operate like we used to.”

Berg added that the pandemic not only meant that she and her team were tasked with revamping everyday operations, they had to do it quickly. Each day that they weren’t able to provide services to their members meant that someone could be going a day without groceries, working out or receiving social time.

“It was hard to connect with seniors at first because they don’t all have internet or access to email,” she said. “But as daunting as it seemed at first, we were able to rework our processes and then eventually just handled any new challenge as it came.”

The nonprofit started using a weekly phone tree that provided updated information on the Stay-at-Home order, instructions for receiving food boxes as well information about other resources like exercise and social program.

“We knew that people were stuck inside, sometimes all day, without any social interaction because they are self isolating, and that is really hard,” Berg said. “So we got creative. Instead of teaching Tai Chi in specific locations in Long Beach, volunteers met these people at their home for porch workouts where they can get moving, but also stay socially distanced.”

More than 700 older adults are signed up for the phone tree program. For folks who need more than just an update, volunteer Senior Police Partners — a volunteer auxiliary of the Long Beach Police Department comprised of senior adults who offer peer support to other area seniors— call members who request a more personal update.

Thanks to a grant from the city, the nonprofit was able to distribute computers and hotspots to people who needed them. But that also meant having to figure out a way to help new computer users remotely.

“Some of these people have never used a computer before and we couldn’t send someone to go to their house and show them how to use it,” Berg said.

But that problem was solved, too. Volunteer nursing students from Cal State Long Beach started scheduling phone calls to answer any computer-related questions. 

Since the pandemic began, about 2,500 copies of the Heart of Ida’s AgeWell magazine and resource guide has been distributed throughout the city. While there aren’t any physical copies available until the next issue is released, people can view the magazine for free at heartofida.org/agewell-long-beach.

Additionally, more than 750 hygiene kits and gift bags were delivered, the nonprofit has helped with 450 dog walks for senior folks with mobility issues, 150 fresh food boxes and 146 grocery gift cards were distributed and 20 online chair yoga classes were added to the Heart of Ida website.

Fifty television shows and infomercials featuring resource guides and workouts also were added to Long Beach’s public television station, PADNET.TV. Shows are produced in both Spanish and English and can be accessed online and on television’s Spectrum Channel 32 and Frontier Communications Channel 41.

Like most nonprofits, the Heart of Ida relies on donations to keep operations moving. For more information, or to make a donation, go to heartofida.org, or call 562-570-3548.

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