After providing only online courses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFT’s Si Beagle Learning Center in the Bronx welcomed retirees in the Bronx section back into the building this spring for a limited number of in-person classes, including watercolor painting, jewelry making, piano, knitting and tai chi.
“People come into the office and say, ‘Thank God, you’re open. It’s so good to be back,’ ” said Robert Fernandez, one of the center’s three coordinators, along with Felicia Armetta and Elizabeth Harris.
The Bronx section has an active and engaged membership, with 4,411 retirees. More than 41% of the section’s members are 69 years old or younger, with 6.6% under 60 and almost 35% between the ages of 60 and 69. The 70-79 age group is 39% of the total, while roughly 20% of members are 80 or older.
The Si Beagle center in the Bronx plans to resume offering a full selection of in-person courses this fall. The 10-week session will also include virtual classes, which have greatly expanded the center’s reach to retirees outside the region — in South Carolina, Virginia and Florida, for example — and to local members with mobility or transportation challenges, Fernandez said.
Classes that take place in the community are also returning this fall, said Harris, one of the section coordinators. Retirees go on walking tours; eat out with the Dine Around program; go to Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shows; attend dinner theater in New Jersey; and more.
“You’re learning for the sake of learning and just having fun and socializing with folks,” Fernandez said.
But the Bronx RTC section does more than offer Si Beagle courses. It organizes activities where retirees can network, and it can help Bronx retirees get referrals when they have questions about social services, health insurance and the UFT Welfare Fund. And if retirees register for a class or trip and don’t show up, someone will call to check on them.
“It’s a way of keeping in touch,” Harris said, “and noticing things that are going on with some of our seasoned participants.”