RNH keeps community together online


The coronavirus pandemic has pulled people apart from both their routine and loved ones. In order to prevent spreading or contracting illness, many have spent most of the past few months in their homes.

Despite the change in lifestyle, Riverdale Neighborhood House — like other organizations used to welcoming many through their doors — has kept its programs active. Even if that’s happening virtually.

Many of the neighborhood house’s classes have become virtual, using online videoconferencing apps like Zoom to connect.

Rob Adelman, who runs the neighborhood house’s health and harmony program, sends out email reminders to members and other participants, letting them know their class is coming up. He also reaches out to each group leader or teacher.

Adelman has even become tech support for anyone struggling to adapt to the virtual environment. However, that hasn’t stopped him from participating himself, a regular at the neighborhood house’s Pilates class.

“We’re not letting this pandemic stop us from continuing to try to provide the community with programs that enrich their lives and help them expand their own capabilities,” Adelman said.

Although certain classes that do not make sense virtually due to spacing issues or lack of personal connections, there are other programs that have worked well virtually, like yoga, Pilates, and a college advisory program for middle and high school students.

Exercise classes that have continued virtually have thrived because those participating have enjoyed the continuity and have strong connections, according to Marcia Santoni, who stepped in as the new executive director of Riverdale Neighborhood House as the pandemic was starting to take hold in the city. Even the college advisory program has done well, since it can help teens virtually navigate the changing college process and build in more time to meet with advisors and help them find the best course for their lives post-graduation.

There have even been new additions to Riverdale Neighborhood House’s programs.

A meditation series started online in response to stress many were feeling during the stay-at-home order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The class is geared toward learning to meditate, but still, before each session begins, participants get a chance to socialize and share what’s happening in their lives. The social aspect allows them to develop personal connections to the class even though they cannot physically be together.

The neighborhood house also started a new drawing class that kicked off with nine people — seven of them new themselves to the Mosholu Avenue facility. The class leader shares her computer screen with the other Zoom participants to show what she’s creating. Then her students can return the favor, revealing their own work on their own computers.

Despite the limitations of virtual programs, they’ve accomplished making the world a smaller place, where distance no longer is an issue. Pilates instructor Kiki Georgiadou has spent the summer in Greece with her family, but she’s still keeping up with her class, helping her students from 5,000 miles away.

When it’s 5 p.m., in the Bronx, it’s midnight in Greece, so the time difference did force Georgiadou’s tabata class to be temporarily suspended since it was on Monday evenings. But Georgiadou’s Sunday morning Pilates class has continued as usual.

Even through an internet connection, Georgiadou says she feels the positive energy. She even enhances it by sharing with her Pilates students pictures from her time in Greece.

“I am so lucky to be teaching this amazing group of people,” Georgiadou said. “They are not only my trainees, but my friends and my support — especially through this tough COVID-19 experience.”

And attendance has held steady, despite the nature of remote classes, Santoni said. Classes range between 12 and 15 participants — a high number, compared to in-person gatherings at the neighborhood house, especially for exercise classes. There is even a student from Israel taking part in Georgiadou’s Pilates class.

“I’m amazed at people’s connection to RNH through all of our programs,” Santoni said. “That connection has become even more important during the pandemic.”

There are other factors that may limit someone from attending a class in-person that is no longer an issue virtually, Adelman said. Some things preventing someone from attending a class could be because they aren’t joined by friends, or are facing bad weather, or simply lack of transportation.

The virtual programs sidesteps all that, allowing participants to join in from the comfort of their own home.

“It’s a very good thing that our teacher can go back to her family thousands of miles away and people don’t miss a beat with their regular exercise program,” Adelman said. “I think the students are appreciating the fact that, at a time like this when people are feeling isolated, they can be together virtually.”

Since arriving at the Riverdale Neighborhood House, Santoni has admired the organization’s commitment to the community and its ability to adapt to change — even after 148 years of existence.

“I think that what we are experiencing now is what it means to create a community beyond our space in Riverdale,” Santoni said. “We are redefining communities and also highlighting the importance of staying connected.”