ELLSWORTH — On Tuesday, April 27, the post-vaccination era began for Mariaville resident Terry Meehan. This was the day he finally got to return to his free-writing group after more than a year of absence. Held each Tuesday at Friends in Action at the Moore Community Center pre-pandemic, the session was something he looked forward to every week.
“It was important to me to get back to it,” Meehan said. “The people I meet with are all vaccinated, and I want to see things hopefully get back to normal.”
What exactly “normal” will look like is anybody’s guess, but for older Mainers who spent month after month in isolation, waving to children and grandchildren from porches or behind windows, the chance to socialize is more than welcome.
“The light at the end of tunnel? The light is there, and we’re getting there,” Meehan said.
For months, much of Friends in Action’s space at the Moore Center has been occupied by elementary and middle school students enrolled in the Down East Family YMCA’s remote learning program. But with Ellsworth schools transitioning to full, in-person learning, Friends in Action’s group programming is returning.
“We are trying a few things, starting this week,” Executive Director Jo Cooper said on Monday. To start, FIA will have the use of “very limited space” for small groups, like the free-writing folks. Masks are required, a waiver must be signed and vaccines are “strongly recommended” but not required.
In addition, the fitness room is open for members and for some limited one-on-one work with a trainer. Cooper said she will try reopening the coffee house in May and is working with the city and the YMCA to fully open Friends in Action July 1.
“I want to thank the Y for their help in making this early, limited reopening possible,” Cooper said.
Nineteen miles away at the Bucksport Area Senior Center, Director William Foster has also brought back activities that were on lockdown along with seniors. While the dining room remains closed, aerobics are held three mornings per week and a new coffee and social hour on Mondays and Wednesdays starts at 9 a.m. The center is open to any senior, and Foster said people come from Castine, Blue Hill, Orland and Verona Island, although “we don’t ask.” Like Friends in Action, masks are required but COVID-19 vaccinations are not.
Bingo will start up again on June 1, and additional activities will follow, Foster said. “We’re ticking off the time. Some groups are waiting to see what happens. They’re worried about the [COVID-19] variants.”
For Meehan, attending his writing group and the chance to work out a little is enough, at least for now. Since joining Friends in Action after his wife’s death, he has gotten into better condition in the fitness room and made new friends.
“I was out of shape physically, out of shape mentally,” he said. “For me, it was a godsend, and I know it was important for everyone who was there.”