Seniors of Los Altos & Hills South Asian gathering

The Seniors of Los Altos & Hills program, formed in 2020, unites local isolated South Asian seniors for regular gatherings at the Los Altos Community Center. Pictured above and at left are scenes from a recent Holi gathering.

Since early 2020, residents of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills have found a way to engage many seniors of South Asian ethnicity who share not just a home in this area, but are united by culture and customs from their homeland, India.

The project began with Shalini Gupta and Meera Mishra wanting to help their mothers make friends in the community, as they were experiencing loneliness amid the pandemic lockdown. A weekly Zoom call emerged as a way to gather like-minded and similar-aged friends from India. Almost overnight, they found nearly 40 seniors either already living here or visiting and unable to travel back to their homes during the lockdown.

During 2020 and 2021, the weekly Zoom call became a lifeline for the group, dubbed Seniors of Los Altos & Hills (SOLAH). SOLAH is an acronym and also a word that denotes the number 16 in Hindi – and the notion of “sweet 16” is common in many languages. Conveying the excitement of youth, this became the organization’s informal name. I was excited with that name because I saw in these senior ladies and gentlemen reflections of all our parents, aunts, uncles and family elders. I fell in love with the entire group and eagerly awaited our weekly Zoom calls as much as they did.

We sang songs, discussed hobbies, read favorite passages from cherished books, held informal recipe exchanges and celebrated festivals – all via Zoom.

Someone shared their love for gardening, and the rest of us began to understand how we could compost our vegetable peels or tackle garden insects. Members were encouraged to present their hobbies, play games or design talks or quizzes. Each one was encouraged to participate, and it made the joys grow manifold.

When members shared their love for jewelry-making or flower garlands, we found ourselves indulging in arts and crafts. We made paintings and cards as well as beaded jewelry to give to a charitable jumble sale organized by another group. We rediscovered a long-lost interest in needle arts – knitting and crochet – that most of us had only been exposed to back in elementary and middle school years. Over the winter, we crocheted baby caps and donated them to another charity.

Finally, in January, with the new Los Altos Community Center opened, we met outside for the first time. Everyone was still masked and sat in social distance outdoors, but it was so very amazing to meet in person. One of the seniors told me it was such a joy to see the people from the Zoom call group. Members were in tears as they shared how they had lost family members back in India due to COVID and had not been able to visit. The feelings of loneliness and isolation were somewhat diminished by meeting people of their own age, who spoke their own language.

We celebrated Holi, the Hindu Festival of Spring in March, in person, again at the community center. Happiness resonated in all our hearts and the bright sunshine healed so many feelings of sadness. We sang songs from our childhood, applied powdered colors and enjoyed homemade foods special to the festival of Holi.

We look forward to many more Zoom calls and many celebrations together.

To join in the gatherings, email shalini_kathail@yahoo.com.

Sharvari Dixit is a Los Altos Hills resident.

“All Together Now,” a new, occasional column in Senior Lifestyles, invites readers to send in their own stories (up to 500 words) and photos of people helping people. Submissions may be edited for readability and clarity. Email to newsroom@latc.com.

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