GOOD SHEPHERD: Senior center director looks after others during uncertain time

Kim Voorhis, director at the Greenfield Senior Center, has kept busy reaching out to seniors while the center has been closed. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter) Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — It’s been an unpredictable year for those who often visit the Greenfield Senior Center, which has closed twice this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The center is a social hub for many seniors who come together to share a variety of activities, from knitting to billiards to line dancing.

Rather than leave members to fend for themselves while they’re apart, director Kim Voorhis has kept busy keeping tabs on them, making sure they have what they need to get through this challenging year.

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Without the social connections they make at the center, many of them could feel isolated at home, said Voorhis, who has been director at the center for 20 years.

She feels it’s her calling to keep seniors connected in these uncertain times.

“I kind of feel like it’s easy to get lost this time of year, especially for seniors,” she said.

“We all need those personal connections, but you don’t realize how much you miss it until it’s gone.”

The decision to close the center twice this year was especially difficult for Voorhis, said Ellen Kuker, director of the Greenfield Parks Department, which oversees the senior center.

“She knows how much the center means to many seniors. It’s their lifeline of connecting with people, and taking that away, it can be difficult,” Kuker said.

“Kim, in my opinion, is going above and beyond by making a personal connection with members and making sure our seniors have the necessities that they need,” she said.

Voorhis has worked this year to connect seniors with local resources that provide food, toiletries and other necessities to those in need of help. When a woman called saying her furnace wasn’t working, Voorhis connected her to Hancock County Senior Services, which provides a handyman service.

She has referred others to Meals on Wheels, the Hancock County Food Pantry and the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, and has dedicated her down time to giving back to those agencies that help the seniors she serves.

Voorhis recently picked up care packages from Mental Health Partners of Hancock County to distribute to seniors who needed an extra lift this holiday season.

She also helped register seniors for Thanksgiving Day meal deliveries through the Lisa Muegge Feast of Plenty.

With the center closed through at least the end of the year, “my role has changed to senior liaison over the holidays,” Voorhis said. “We want seniors to call the Senior Center for help, and we’ll assist as best we can.”

Voorhis shares a close bond with many of the seniors who frequent the center, which was serving about 50 members a day before the pandemic hit.

“I’ve done this for 20 years. A lot of these people know me was well as I know them. They’ve watched my kids grow up,” she said.

Typically, the center is bustling with activity at the holidays, with just about every small group having its own Christmas party. Voorhis also has a holiday tea for those who aren’t involved with any particular small group.

It breaks her heart that the members won’t have the opportunity to gather and celebrate as they normally do this year.

“A lot of them have family, but there are some who don’t. Then there are those who won’t get together with their family this year” due to COVID-19, she said.

With the shortened days and dreary, cold weather, Voorhis knows the winter months can be taxing on a lot of people, especially those who feel isolated.

“Imagine if you’re 75 or 80 and don’t get out a lot,” she said. “I just felt like I owed that to them to help them feel a little more connected.”

While the center is closed, Voorhis keeps tabs on members by going through a list and reaching out to them every now and then. Occasionally, members will reach out to her saying they haven’t heard from a particular member in a while, and she’ll track them down to make sure they’re OK.

She keeps an eye out for those she thinks may be struggling with the isolation and potential depression that many can suffer during such a turbulent and unpredictable time. When one particular member didn’t seem herself when emailing earlier this year, Voorhis made sure to follow up with her and make sure she was managing.

While she loves serving seniors, Voorhis said she’s always had a heart for people of all ages.

She previously worked three years as a preschool teacher, and before that served as a customer service manager for Target, troubleshooting people’s problems and steering them toward the help they needed.

She likes to apply the same principles to her job at the senior center, where her door is always open to members who want to pop in with a question or simply to say hello.

“A lot of times they’ll come in just to chat and see how I’m doing,” she said.

A few seniors have called her to check in during the closure, and some reach out to get contact information for fellow members, so they can stay connected until they’re able to gather together at the senior center once again.

Voorhis recently connected a few men who typically meet up for coffee at the center, who were going to have coffee somewhere in town. She’s also on a text chain with a group of women who planned to get together for lunch before Christmas.

Voorhis is happy to serve as the liaison who can help draw local seniors together.

“A lot of the groups have stayed in touch while the center’s closed. I try to watch and see who might be falling through the cracks, and help keep them connected,” she said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About this series” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

In this era of extraordinary upheaval, quiet gestures of grace and generosity are helping define a holiday season like no other. A series of stories in the Daily Reporter, "Angels Among Us," introduces you to some of the people whose efforts are brightening the season in our communities.