COVID has prevented these Seattle seniors from exercising. Now they dance together on Zoom

Eyes closed in concentration, Yuriko Ueda stretched her right hand above her head, swung her left hand to the ground, and pointed her chin to the sky.

Holding this position, Ueda let a wave of orchestral music wash over her.

“Inhale and exhale,” said exercise instructor Lily Singh. “Long and easy. “

When the music stopped, Ueda slowly opened her eyes… and sat down in a chair in her dining room at home. She motioned to an iPad perched on the table.

“Hi, Youriko!” Singh said, greeting Ueda and a dozen other seniors in the EnhanceFitness class she leads through Zoom for Asian Counseling and Referral Service, or ACRS.

Based in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, ACRS is one of 13 nonprofits that benefit from donations from readers to the Seattle Times Fund for Those in Need.

Before the pandemic, the organization’s on-site “Club Bamboo” program provided seniors with a lively place to chat, dance and have lunch with Asian and Pacific Islander fare every day of the week, while directing them to d ‘other ACRS offers, such as housing assistance, health counseling and citizenship courses. Ueda participated.

But many in-person programs in the Seattle area, including Club Bamboo, have been on hold since the emergence of COVID-19 almost two years ago, leaving seniors like Ueda, a 75-year-old Japanese immigrant. , at risk of becoming physically inactive and socially isolated.

For weeks, Ueda hardly saw anyone other than her husband. She couldn’t play pickleball anymore. At one point, she struggled to garden.

For the first time in her life, “I couldn’t even squat” or squat, she said, describing it as a shock. “I couldn’t get up. “

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Then, about eight months ago, Ueda heard something exciting: Club Bamboo was going to go online.

Equipped by ACRS with tablets, laptops, and digital training (including how to share emojis), Ueda and over 60 other seniors now exercise, meditate, and karaoke together on Zoom. Because online computing is called “the cloud”, they call the virtual program “Cloud Bamboo”.

“We were brainstorming ideas and someone suggested Cloud Bamboo – Club Bamboo in a virtual setting,” said Miguel Saldin, director at ACRS. “We thought it looked amazing.”

Health, citizenship

Loneliness can have short- and long-term effects, putting people of all ages at increased risk for certain illnesses and exacerbating or leading to depression.

Social isolation can even increase the risk of dying prematurely, according to some research. The elderly can be particularly vulnerable, due to circumstances such as life alone, chronic disease and hearing loss, immigrant seniors sometimes face additional challenges.

In a King County survey led in mid-2020, around 12% of people over 50 said they had felt depressed or hopeless most of the time since the start of the pandemic, while 14% said they had little interest or pleasure in getting it right and 12% reported difficulty obtaining medication.

In a national survey led by the AARP Foundation and United Health Foundation in mid-2020, 40% of people over 50 said they felt isolated and 33% said they had spent at least a month without interacting with people outside their home and their place of work.

Prior to the pandemic, Club Bamboo was a social hub for many older people, and the organization used the program’s lively lunches “as a bridge” to connect older people to holistic care, Saldin said.

Older people of Japanese and American descent can be particularly reluctant to seek help, said Rina Adams, a CASW social worker who focuses on this population and who at one point connected Ueda to a test. coronavirus.

“For some people, it’s just hard to imagine anyone helping them because they’ve been so independent for 70 or 80 years,” Adams said.

Although Ueda was introduced to ACRS through Club Bamboo, after hearing about the program’s inexpensive lunches from a friend, she also received help from the organization last year. For decades, a green card and marriage to an American citizen had seemed acceptable; then President Donald Trump arrived, Ueda said.

“He was talking about immigration, about this and that,” during his re-election campaign in 2020, she recalled. “So I said, ‘You don’t know what’s going to happen with Trump. I need to become a US citizen.

The CCRA assisted Ueda in applying. “They put everything on the computer,” she said. As she had not received a response from the government, about 10 months later, the organization verified her case.

“I’m a citizen now,” said Ueda, who keeps a small American flag from her naturalization celebration on the wall in her dining room.

“Bamboo Cloud”

These days, Ueda lives for Cloud Bamboo, attending the EnhanceFitness class two or three times a week.

Singh leads his class from a windowless room in the basement of the CASI Headquarters building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. She mixes stretching with dance moves, aerobics and moves that resemble aspects of yoga and tai chi. The soundtrack includes new age music and soul standards.

ACRS assistant Enoch Wong ran the show on a recent Wednesday, sitting behind a computer and displaying the Zoom call on a projection screen so Singh could see and call participants by name.

Wong, along with other ACRS staff and volunteers, spent more than 100 hours last year training seniors in the use of tablets, laptops, and Zooms, many of whom do not. ‘had never used before.

Muting was an important skill to learn in the first few sessions because “some people had their noise,” which was annoying, Ueda said with a laugh. Participants connect from homes and apartments across the Seattle area. They are between 63 and 83 years old.

The virtual setting is somewhat detrimental to the experience. There are no hugs, for example. Still, Zoom can be handy, especially for older people who live far from CALJ and those who have mobility issues.

The organization can keep the option available even when in-person activities resume, Saldin said. Instructors and participants have found ways to interact online.

“We start giving them technical advice at the end of the course,” said Francie Wong, who coordinates the courses for seniors at CALJ. “We also celebrate their birthdays every month. They reactivate and sing together.

In addition to EnhanceFitness, Cloud Bamboo’s offerings currently include a weekly Matter of Balance fall prevention workshop in English and Vietnamese, a bi-weekly yoga / meditation class in English and Mandarin, and a weekly karaoke session for Vietnamese speakers.

Some results can be measured. When Cloud Bamboo’s fitness class launched in April, ACRS had 19 participants standing (and sitting) as many times as they could in 30 seconds. They averaged about 11 movements. Tested again in August, they had an average of almost 13. The average number of arm curls they could do in 30 seconds also increased from 13 to almost 16.

Other results are less tangible, such as the enjoyment Ueda derives from gardening, now that she can stretch, bend and squat again with relative ease.

She talks about ACRS “wherever I go”, with a short, sweet pitch: “If you need help, she’s there”.

Asian counseling and guidance service

| Fund for those in need

Your dollars at work

Asian Counseling and Referral Service promotes social justice and the well-being of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and other community members with multilingual and multicultural programs, ranging from nutrition and research to employment in mental health counseling and citizenship support. For information:

$ 25: Provides three days of hot meals to a low-income homebound senior

$ 50: Support an immigrant on the path to citizenship

$ 100: Funds programs that help youth gain confidence, explore college opportunities and meet their mental health needs

$ 200: Supports digital literacy training for a low-income immigrant

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