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Senior News - February 2017 Issue
Programming for diversity at Seaside Innovative Center
Programming for diversity at Seaside Innovative Center
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilman Mark Treyger tour the center.

Talk about diversity! Seaside Innovative Senior Center in Coney Island is a microcosm of New York.

The center draws Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese-speaking seniors. It also hosts Orthodox Jewish, African-American, Italian-American and Irish-American members. Sponsored by the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, the center strives to offer diverse programming that meets the needs and interests of its multicultural population.

On a typical day, games of pool, pinochle and mahjong are standard. In a room down the hall, chair yoga is offered in English to a class of women who follow the instructor’s movements without needing to understand her verbal directions. An art class, led by a bilingual Chinese artist, may be in session across the corridor. In this class, too, language isn’t a barrier.

During a karaoke session, some 25 members – mostly but not all Asian – sing along to a music video playing on a big screen. Chinese, Europeans and American scenes flash across the screen as lyrics change from Chinese to French to Spanish to English.

First one senior and then another takes the microphone to lead the singing. Those who don’t speak Chinese keep silent during the Chinese songs. At one point, one senior with the microphone appears to be the only person who knows Spanish. Everyone joins in when the lyrics are in English.

Center Director Grace Brandi notes that some of the center’s activities encourage intermingling while other appeal to a particular ethnicity. She thinks this mix contributes to Seaside’s success. “We don’t cater to any one group,” she says. “We provide culturally oriented activities for different groups, but we also make sure there are activities anyone can feel comfortable joining. And we try to find out what members are interested in and then do what we can to give them what they’d like.”

Brandi cites erhu instruction as an example of an activity with particular ethnic appeal. The instrument is a two-stringed “fiddle” first introduced to China more than a thousand years ago. Chinese members requested a class, researched costs, found an instructor and bought their own instruments.

Seaside now offers erhu classes to a large crowd, along with two forms of tai chi, specialized dances and massage.

Many Russian members look forward to an “international chorus” and make a point of attending the center on the days it is offered, according to Brandi. They also enjoy the computer classes.

Meanwhile, “international dance” draws seniors from every group to learn the Electric Slide, the Macarena and even hip-hop moves. “Everyone enjoys it,” says Brandi. “It’s all about comfort levels.”

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