Montclair seniors collectively know what Michelle DeWitt, the senior citizens coordinator of Lifelong Montclair, has done to keep us physically, emotionally and mentally fit since the COVID-19 shutdown in March of 2020. Now it’s time that the world knows.

Before COVID, the Township of Montclair provided many senior services through Lifelong Montclair’s senior center at the Edgemont Park Shelter House. The program was organized and managed by Michelle, through the Department of Health and Human Services. It was robust, consisting of in-person exercise and art classes, lectures on information pertinent to seniors, provider-sponsored lunch and trips to the Papermill Playhouse. All of these activities were very interesting and kept us seniors busy and content.

Then came COVID. Everything shut down. There was no more socialization at the Shelter House. There were no lunches to share, no activities that could take place for us seniors. This set Michelle into action. Within days, we were taught how to use Zoom and we were taking classes and participating in senior activities, all within the safety of our own homes. Michelle called in all of her resources to bring us shut-ins into contact with one another, to keep us entertained and informed and to alleviate the loneliness and confusion that most of us were experiencing.

We Zoomed with Lissy, Rasheeda, Jean and Theresa, who led exercise classes to keep our bodies fit and healthy. We Zoomed with doctors, social workers, caretaker providers and elder care lawyers who provided us with wellness information and answered questions about senior issues. Michelle formed the Lunch Bunch. and we chatted with each other via Zoom while she cooked in the kitchen at the Shelter House — a bright spot in what could have been a lonely, dark day.

Michelle found travelers who Zoomed with us to take us to places like Italy, Norway and Bali.  We learned about the history of chocolate. Some of us joined the book club and others created poetry for the first time ever.

She found entertainers who Zoomed with us about their various cultures – Ukrainian egg painting and Italian folklore and music. She found musicians to Zoom their beautiful music to us.  She even set up Zoom art classes for drawing, painting, crafts and more. We learned about the history of New York neighborhoods, the history of movies of different eras, the history of divas throughout the years. I know I have left some things out because there are so many activities she set in motion, too numerous to count.

Without hesitation, Michelle was available to help us occupy our time and, yes, avoid the depression that befell so many seniors during such an oppressive time. I, for one, don’t know how I would have survived the pandemic without the rich and interesting programs that were available each and every day. I would not have endured the pandemic without the compassion and understanding that this one woman provided on a regular basis, and I am sure countless others who attended her programs will attest to it.

And, did I mention that Michelle also has a family, including her spouse, their son and elderly parents, that she needed to keep safe and engaged through this time? So much to juggle, and yet she did it all. She is now in the process of offering some in-person activities outside the doors of the Shelter House and in compliance with all COVID-related protocols. I applaud and thank Michelle DeWitt for all she has done to provide us seniors with a delicious quality of life during an unsavory time in our lives. She is truly a hero among heroes who should have been included in the Caravan for Heroes during Montclair’s Independence celebration.

Jackie Doerr


Montclair Local's Opinion section is an open forum for civil discussion in which we invite readers to discuss town matters, articles published in Montclair, or previously published letters. Views expressed and published in this section are solely those of the writers, and do not represent the views of Montclair Local.

Letters to the editor: To submit a letter to the editor, email, or mail "Letters to the Editor," 309 Orange Road, Montclair, NJ, 07042 (email is preferred). Submissions must include the name, address and phone number of the writer for verification. Only the writer's name and town of residence will be published. Montclair Local does not publish anonymous opinion pieces.

Letters must be no more than 500 words in length, and must be received by 5 p.m. Monday to be eligible for potential publication in that week's Thursday print issue. Letters may be edited by Montclair Local for grammar and style. While our goal is to publish most letters we receive, Montclair Local reserves the right to decline publication of a letter for any reason, including but not limited to concerns about unproven or defamatory statements, inappropriate language, topic matter far afield of the particular interests of Montclair residents, or available space.

Town Square: Montclair Local also accepts longer-form opinion essays from residents aiming to generate discussion on topics specific to the community, under our "Town
Square" banner. "Town Square" essays should be no more than 750 words in length, and topics should be submitted to at least seven days prior to publication.