Director: Vaccinated residents will get more access when Ridgefield senior center reopens

RIDGEFIELD — Starting June 1, Founders Hall will reopen for in-person programming for the first time since last March and will provide more access to those who have been fully vaccinated, the senior center’s executive director said.

The announcement comes as local vaccinations continue to increase. The latest state Department of Public Health data shows all Ridgefield residents who are 65 and older have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. As of April 21, the state data shows nearly 60 percent of all Ridgefield residents have received the first dose.

The senior center provides academic, social and fitness programs to roughly 3,300 members ages 60 and older, and since many in that demographic have “embraced the vaccine,” Founders Executive Director Grace Weber said, “it was the driving decision for opening at this time.”

Founders initially closed on March 11, 2020, but continued to hold classes online. Members were also invited to drive by for monthly “Pick Me Up” programs where they received goodie bags while remaining in their cars. In the fall, members were able to return for limited in-person programs that were held outside.

Starting June 1, fully vaccinated members will be able to use the center’s billiards room, card room, living room, library and computer room on a reservation basis. Masking and social distancing will be required. On June 21, the start of Founders’ summer semester, classes will resume on a hybrid schedule, which means some will be taught both in person and on Zoom.

“It depends on the format of the class,” Weber explained. “We have lecture classes that typically host 90 people — that’s been scaled back to 24.” Members who wish to attend in-person will be rotated each week, she added.

The center will “hold off” offering fitness classes, but will reassess them before the start of the fall semester, Weber said.

“It’s a huge departure from what we’ve done in the past but it’s a step toward giving our members all that the Founders Hall community offers,” Weber said.

Weber received several emails from members who were “delighted” to hear of Founders’ reopening plans. Among them was 51-year Ridgefield resident Jane Leff, who’s been going to the center since 2012.

Before the pandemic, Leff led a very active lifestyle by serving as a volunteer kindergarten teacher’s aide at elementary schools in Danbury, spending Saturdays at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen and attending three classes at Founders per semester. As a lover of learning, she developed a habit of getting to class early to secure an aisle seat near the front row. She intends to continue that routine in person this June.

“I’m going to be there,” Leff said confidently. “I’m a very cautious person about rules and regulations so I’m glad they got it clearly written out. … It’s a big sign that we’re getting back to normalcy.”

Leff acknowledged that while there may be some people with more reservations about returning for in-person programming, she trusts Founders to “do it right.”

“Grace and her staff are amazing (and) I’ll know they’ll (reopen) appropriately,” she added. “I treasure this place.”

Additional details about the center’s reopening plans will be provided in next month’s Founders Forum newsletter and its summer semester coursebook. For more information, visit founders-hall.org.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Jane Leff’s role in Danbury elementary schools.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com