New Brooklyn 'school' helps adults 60+ find friends, learn new skills

A 21,000-square-foot space in Brooklyn houses a brand-new center for older adults 60 and up looking to find some friends, get some exercise and maybe even learn to shop online.

"We do art," Christine Heeg said. "We do exercise, and it’s just been an eye-opener for me in finding my peers."

For Heeg, the past few weeks at Bay Ridge Center have been like starting a new school year, except at the age of 74.

"I discovered I’m an artist," she said. "I can draw. I can do watercolor and once a week, we get together, all 14 of us. I was radical the other day and said. ‘How about we form a club?’"

Heeg has several degrees, is retired and now lives in the Bay Ridge. In her seventh decade, she was still looking for a place to learn.

"Older adults are about to take over the population," Todd Fliedner, executive director of Bay Ridge Center, said. "We are the fastest growing population. The trick is using your later years for learning and new experiences."

"I live in the city where this has been built," Fliedner added. "When I go home at night, I see the members. I know when I go home at night, I know I have made a difference in their lives."

Bipartisan efforts by local politicians secured a $2 million HUD grant and another $3 million in funding to build the space and all its classrooms.

"This is the technology training hub to provide training to seniors, so they can move on with us in technology," said John Abi-Habib, chairman of the Bay Ridge Center Campaign Committee.

According to the folks at the center, loneliness among older adults has been hitting hard since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, NYC Aging Services projects a 75% increase in services for older adults over the next seven years, which makes the timing of the center’s opening more important than ever."

For Christine, she’s mastered her exercise class, knows how to order on Amazon and most importantly – made lots of friends. 

"It gets you out of your shell," Heeg said. "You get to connect with others and you meet your peers."