Finding Social and Spiritual Outlets with Brenda Barber

Portraits of Resilience: Metro Atlantans Share their Stories of Life during the Pandemic

For adults ages 65 and older, the past two years have been especially challenging. As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we take a look back to see how the lives of metro Atlanta residents have been impacted. During the month of March, we will share the stories of older persons from across the region weekly.

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Brenda stands surrounded by her friends at the senior center. Everyone stands side by side.
Brenda poses for a picture with her friends at the Senior Center.

The senior center near Grant Park has been a big part of Brenda Barber’s life since she retired almost 15 years ago. Brenda, who lives alone, has relied on the center for friendships, healthy meals, financial talks, crafts, and more.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, her only outings were to shop for groceries and to keep doctor appointments. The center stayed mostly closed, but during the ebbs and flows of COVID-19, she found ways to stay connected that went beyond virtual Zumba classes and bingo games. In early 2021, Brenda restarted a morning inspiration she’d done for years. Via a phone conference call, she and her group would gather three times a week in prayer.

“I’ve led that every morning for over a year now,” says Brenda, who is 73 and in good health. “We read the scripture, we pray, we sing, and we close with a prayer. Sometimes we go a little over the 30 minutes, and it’s OK.”

With the center open again now, Brenda’s continued the morning prayers in person, with about 10 people attending. She got her COVID-19 booster last year. A few weeks ago, Brenda started going back to the center twice a week, for three hours each time. She looks forward to spending more time there and is excited to socialize face-to-face with staff and friends. “I’ve seen a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a while,” she says. “It makes me feel better.”

Brenda lives near the Atlanta Zoo, and the center is only 1.5 miles from the three-bedroom home where she’s lived for five decades. She gets a ride back and forth through Fulton County’s Senior Services shared-ride program for adults ages 60 and older. Brenda shows a piece of paper to another woman at the senior center.

For decades, Brenda worked at Atlanta Public Schools – first as a pre-school teacher and then as a paraprofessional for grades K to 3. She misses teaching children. “l’d really like to get back to help children learn to read,” she says.

Since retiring in 2008, Brenda’s local senior center has been a place where she fills her day with fellowship and activities. Sewing, card making, and doing research on the Internet are some of her favorites. It’s also a place where she gets nutritious lunches during the week.

What she missed over the past two years was much more than the sum of what she did at the senior center. It’s also her social and spiritual outlet.

“It was really like family; we did a lot of activities. We had a choir, we would sing, we were invited to sing at certain places. We were almost in [the] process of starting our little theatre.”

Brenda, who gets occasional visits from her grandson, is optimistic about 2022.

“I think this is going to be a better year,” she says. “I try to remain positive as much as possible.”

 

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For more information about services for older people and people with disabilities in the Metro Atlanta area, check out our Service Provider page, or visit the Empowerline website to be connected with counseling

 

Arin Yost

Arin is a Lead for America fellow with the Aging & Independence Services Group working with the Live Beyond Expectations team to identify and address disparities in life expectancy throughout the Atlanta region. In their free time, Arin enjoys gardening, creating zines, and spoiling their pet tortoise, Michel.