With his eyes closed in concentration, Yuri Ueda stretched his right hand over his head, turned his left hand to the ground, and aimed his chin at the sky.
In keeping with this position, Ueda was embraced by a wave of orchestral music.
“Breathe in and out,” said exercise teacher Lily Singh. “Long and easy.”
When the music stopped, Ueda slowly opened her eyes … and sat down on a chair in the dining room. He winked at an iPad on the table.
“Hello, Yuriko!” Singh said he would return to Uedari and another dozen seniors in the EnhanceFitness class, who run the Asian Counseling and Referral Service or ACRS.
Located in the Rainier Valley of Seattle, ACRS is one of 13 non-profit organizations that benefit from Seattle Times Fund for Those Needs reader donations.
Prior to the pandemic, the organization’s local “Club Bamboo” program provided a lively place for older adults to chat, dance and dine with Asian and Pacific Island dishes every day, while ACRS focused on other offerings such as home care and mental health. health counseling and citizenship courses. Ueda took part.
But many programs around Seattle, including Club Bamboo, have been disrupted for almost two years since COVID-19 was founded, leaving elderly people like Ueda, a 75-year-old Japanese immigrant, at risk of becoming physically inactive. socially isolated.
For weeks, Ueda saw almost no one but her husband. He couldn’t play pickleball anymore. At one point, he had trouble cultivating gardening.
For the first time in his life, “I couldn’t even do it” or bowed down, he said, describing it as a shock. “I couldn’t go back to myself.”
Then, about eight months ago, Ueda heard something exciting: Club Bamboo was moving online.
Equipped with ACRS tablets, laptops, and digital training (including emoji sharing mode), Ueda and more than 60 other adults perform, meditate, and sing karaoke together via Zoom. Because online computing is called a “cloud,” it’s called a “Cloud Bamboo” virtual program.
“We were exploring ideas and someone suggested Cloud Bamboo – Club Bamboo in a virtual environment,” said Miguel Saldin, ACRS manager. “We were amazed at that.”
Loneliness can have short-term and long-term effects, putting people of all ages at greater risk for certain illnesses and can lead to or exacerbate depression.
Social isolation can increase the risk of early death, according to some research. Older adults can be particularly vulnerable as a result of circumstances such as living alone, chronic illnesses and hearing loss, and older adults who are immigrants sometimes face additional challenges.
In a mid-2020 King County survey, about 12% of respondents over the age of 50 said they felt down or hopeless most days since the pandemic began, with 14% saying they had little interest or pleasure in doing things and 12% had trouble getting medication. .
In a national survey conducted by the AARP Foundation and the United Health Foundation in mid-2020, 40% of respondents over the age of 50 said they felt isolated and 33% said they had spent at least a month without interacting with people outside their home and workplace.
In the run-up to the pandemic, Club Bamboo was a social hub for many seniors, and the organization used the program’s lively meals as “doors” to connect older adults with comprehensive care, Saldin said.
Japanese elderly people in Japan may be particularly reluctant to seek help, said Rina Adams, an ACRS staffer who focuses on that population and who was once connected to a Ueda coronavirus test.
“It’s hard for some to imagine someone helping them, because they’ve been very independent for 70, 80 years,” Adams said.
Although Ueda joined ACRS through the Bamboo Club, after learning about the program’s cheap meals, last year she also received citizenship support from the organization. For decades, it seemed good to them to marry a green card and marry a U.S. citizen; then came President Donald Trump, Ueda said.
“He was talking about immigration, this and that,” he recalled in the 2020 election campaign, he recalled. “So I said,‘ You don’t know what’s going to happen to Trump. I have to become a citizen of the United States. ‘
The ACRC helped him apply to Ueda. “They put everything into the computer,” he said. When he received no response from the government, about 10 months later, the organization verified his case.
“I’m a citizen now,” said Ueda, who holds a small American flag in celebration of his naturalization on the dining room wall.
Today, Ueda lives for Cloud Bamboo, attending EnhanceFitness class two or three times a week.
Singh leads his class with Martin Luther King Jr. From a windowless basement room in the ACRS building on the Way South. The stretches are mixed 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 directed the show last Wednesday, sitting behind a computer and displaying the Zoom call on the screen of a projector for Singh to see and call the participants by name.
Wong, along with other ACRS staff and volunteers, spent more than 100 hours last year training seniors on tablets, laptops and Zoom, many of which they had never used before.
Silence was an important skill to learn in the early sessions because “some of them were on top of their noise” and that was annoying, Ueda said with a laugh. Participants log in from homes and apartments throughout the Seattle area. They are between 63 and 83 years old.
The virtual setting takes some of the sting out of the experience. There are no hugs, for example. However, Zoom can be convenient, especially for adults who live far away from ACRS and have mobility problems.
The organization can keep the opportunity available in person even when the activities resume, Saldin said. Teachers and participants have come up with ways to interact online.
“At the end of the class, we started giving technology advice,” said Francie Wong, who coordinates classes for ACRS seniors. “We also celebrate their birthdays every month. They shut up and sing together. ”
In addition to EnhanceFitness, Cloud Bamboo offers a weekly Matter of Balance fall prevention workshop in English and Vietnamese, a 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 kicked off in April, ACRS had 19 participants standing (and sitting) for as many as 30 seconds in 30 seconds. They made an average of about 11 moves. They tried it again in August, with an average increase in the number of curly arms they could do in almost 13.30 seconds, from 13 to almost 16.
The other results are less tangible, like the pleasure that Ueda gets from gardening, which can now be stretched, bent and occupied again with relative ease.
He talks about ACRS, “Everywhere You Go,” with a short, sweet record: “If you need help, it’s there.”