Mariangela Saavedra, the director at the Center on the Hill, has taken many of the center’s popular classes online.

by Sue Ann Rybak

Did you know that you can still take some of your favorite Center on the Hill classes even while the center is closed? Classes such as Golden Yoga, Chair Pilates, Diabetes Nutrition class, and “Tell Me Something Good”, an interactive online class based on StoryWise card game, and others are posted every day to the center’s new program page. 

Mariangela Saavedra, the director at the Center on the Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave., began brainstorming about ways she could meet her clients’ needs even before the center announced it was officially closed for several weeks due to coronavirus.

The center had initially planned to reopen on May 4; however, Gov. Tom Wolf recently announced that he was extending the stay-at-home order to May 8.

She said before the stay-at-home order attendance at the center’s most popular events such as the Speaker Series had increased.

Normally, 30-40 people attend the center’s monthly speaker series, but approximately 175 people attended January’s presentation. At a screening of “Harriet,” she was surprised when over 140 people showed up.

“People were really beginning to engage with the community, and then this happened,” said Saavedra, who lives in Germantown.

She said suddenly, it became “you cannot be here then we have nothing for you.”

“And that was my driving thought, how can I turn this into something that I can offer,” she said. “I know everybody doesn’t have access to a computer; I thought if this is the best I can do, then this is the best I can do.”

Saavedra immediately reached out to instructors and asked them to record one or two-minute video messages using the camera on their phone to post the CENTER ON THE HILL- Philadelphia YouTube channel to let people know they are there and still care about them.

Then, she redesigned the Center on the Hill’s three WordPress pages. She created a new program page where visitors can get the latest digital content posted Monday through Friday at noon, a page for an archive of previously posted online content, and one page for community resources.

Then, she created a schedule for digital online content, which is available at https://www.chestnuthillpres.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Copy-of-Schedule-of-Online-Activities-1.jpg.

“So, people at the Center know if they want to learn something about art then they can check out the website on Wednesday because she is going to post something new about art that day,” she said.

On Wednesdays, Saavedra typically posts a new art video and/or art lesson and a new virtual tour link. Recently, she posted Learning to Look with Suzanne Fitzpatrick- Quick Pick #2 Photographer Dorothea Lange and a Collage Art Lesson with Rebecca Hoenig. Visitors could also watch a video tour of Marineland Dolphin Adventure in Florida, where they are rescuing marine animals who have suffered injuries in the wild.

Saavedra said people “were really interested in the social piece” that the center offered. 

“I thought the only way I could do that online and make people feel engaged was with games,” she said. “That’s where the series called Tell Me Something Good came from. “Meant to engage in conversation. My friend’s first question was ‘How do you feel about tattoos and piercings?’ It was a wonderful dialogue.

“In I should have known that series,” visitors are asked 8 trivia questions and then asked to email their answers at the end of each round. After six rounds, people who answer the most questions are entered into a drawing to receive a prize when the center reopens.

The community resource page provides information and links for Food resources including stores who do curbside pick up and delivery, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s COVID-19 Senior Resource Guide, voting, tax information, a pet resource guide, and more.

Saavedra said the resource page was her “biggest challenge” and the most important information that her “demographic might need.” It took her three weeks to gather the information in an easy to read and user friendly format.

She said government or other websites often listed links to information, but their website was not user friendly. That’s when she decided to list the PDF to the information her clients would need.

Besides moving classes online and creating a community resource page, Saavedra sends weekly emails to clients updating them on the center. She includes links from that week’s favorite online classes and reminds people about upcoming online events like the center’s monthly speaker series. She confirmed that they will have a speaker on May 14.

“At the end of the email, I always say please reach out to me by phone or email anytime,” she said.

She said she is constantly checking her phone messages and email. “If people email me and say you don’t have to call me back, I always call them back. I try to remind them that’s why I am here. It is really great to talk to people and hear how they are doing and what they are doing to stay positive. I really wish there was a way I could do more.”

For more information about Center on the Hill’s online content, go to https://www.chestnuthillpres.org/center-on-the-hill/programs/

Please take the time to support our journalism. You can do that with a subscription or with a tax-deductible donation to the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, which launched a support fund for the Local to help us remain funded during this pandemic. Thank you for your support!

...