Mental Health Programs for Seniors

Mental Health Programs for Seniors

Mental health is a critical part of our well-being as humans. Here at Hall Neighborhood House, we work to provide our neighbors with holistic behavioral health support that meets their needs throughout their lives. 

This year, we’ve partnered with Southwest Community Health to provide comprehensive counseling to the seniors in our program! 

How did we get here?

Our job, at its core, is to provide services that make our neighbors’ lives better. Throughout our 135-year history, our programs have taken many forms—but our goal to make life better has always been at the core of our work. Affordable preschool and childcare, meals for seniors, youth after-school programs, and resources for families are just a few of our impactful programs. 

When we see a need in our community, we try our hardest to meet it. In 2021, that meant opening our medical clinic to provide critical and comprehensive healthcare. On November 9, we celebrated the next chapter of our on-site health center with our Grand Welcoming Celebration with Southwest Community Health! We’re thrilled to offer participants in our programs checkups, vaccines, physicals, and preventative care. 

We also realized we could do even more together and began exploring what a mental health program tailored to our seniors could look like. 

Senior mental health

The CDC reports that depression is the most prevalent mental health condition among older adults. It can increase with age, but it is not a normal part of aging. The CDC estimates that 80% of depression cases in older adults can be treated. 

Depressive disorders can be difficult to recognize and treat in seniors because of the misconception that certain symptoms of depression are a normal part of aging and not a cause for concern. Seniors themselves may not know they can seek treatment and feel better. 

At Hall, our strong relationships with the seniors in our program (many of whom we see multiple times a week) mean that we are primed to notice extended periods of sadness or symptoms of depression. 

Mental health support at Hall

Through our partnership with Southwest Community Health, we’re providing group and individual counseling to our seniors, connecting them with trusted providers. 

In counseling, seniors can talk through what they’re experiencing, get advice from knowledgeable providers, and be referred to more specialized care if needed. Group counseling allows them to problem-solve with their peers and understand that they are not alone in what they are feeling. 

We’re also hosting low-pressure conversations to help break down the stigma around getting help and talking about feelings. 

For as long as our senior center has existed, seniors have been able to find connections and relationships that improve their quality of life. Now, they can find the care they need to support their physical and mental health as they age. Their presence strengthens our community, and we’re proud to connect them with the resources they need to live their healthiest lives.

Meet the Hall Neighborhood House STEM Team

Meet the Hall Neighborhood House STEM Team

Here at Hall Neighborhood House, we see STEM education as so much more than simple science, technology, engineering, and math lessons. Knowledge is important, but STEM can be so much bigger than hard skills. 

Our STEM Coordinator, David Mestre, has built a program that uses STEM to get youth excited about learning and thinking about bold possibilities for their futures. 

David has an Astronomy degree from Harvard and a Masters of Science, from the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as the Director of the Henry B. duPont III Planetarium (at the former Discovery Museum and Planetarium), making him the perfect person to lead our STEM program. His goal throughout his career has been to “inspire, engage, and educate various audiences on science, technology, engineering, and math.” 

Hall and Beyond

“Our on-site program is just the beginning,” David explained. “I work with a team of people to bring STEM programs and STEM education not only to audiences that are here at Hall, but also beyond its doors.”

For example, the STEM team worked with the University of Bridgeport to implement underwater vehicle design in high school classrooms, supported by a grant from the U.S. Navy. “The students were able to build the submersible and learn about how we actually conduct underwater exploration with these remote vehicles,” shared David.

“We are also setting up a robotic farm at Harding High School, taking their gardening club into the 21st century,” he added. “And we work with the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program in Bridgeport to provide dedicated programming to students. 

In middle and elementary schools, Hall provides STEM support to Lighthouse programs, supporting Bridgeport’s after school programming. During these programs, students learn about electrical engineering, robotics, coding, and more. Hall even hosted Code Ninjas for a two-week coding workshop this summer.

“The kids went bananas,” said David. “They didn’t want to leave the room.” 

With the announcement of The Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center, created in partnership with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, the sky’s the limit for our STEM programming—both at Hall and in Bridgeport schools.

David noted that, with the expansion, “our scope of work is actually going to exponentially increase. The STEM Center is being reimagined and reinvigorated with the support of many generous donors, all in the name of Alan Wallack.” 

He emphasized that Hall’s model will be special:  “We’re using a hub and spoke model. We will be a support system and provide the scaffolding to support teachers in implementing STEM in a sustainable way.” 

Schools will provide the space and staffing, and Hall will ensure these educational products get to students. 

How The Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center Comes to Life

Hall Neighborhood House works with generous donors to make these STEM centers happen—at no cost to students or schools. Each STEM center costs $40,000 to bring to life in a Bridgeport school, covering the cost of training, materials, and supplies. 

This funding provides state-of-the-art technology, including …

  • 3D printers
  • Bee Bot programmable robots
  • Circuit boards
  • Makey Makey engineering kits
  • Ozobots for coding
  • Computers
  • Sphero BOLT and indi

These tools support learning and introduce students to the technology of the future in an age-appropriate way. 

“The idea that a place like Hall, a space that is safe and empowering, offers these resources is pretty powerful,” David shared. “As kids gravitate to it and donors add their own legacies, the growth is exponential. 

The STEM Dream Team

The new STEM learning center builds upon a program that started two years ago when Jennifer Buckley and David Mestre sought out funding to support STEM programming. When Hall received the funding, David knew exactly who he wanted to bring on board. 

“I immediately thought of Lynn,” he said. 

“We work well as a team,” Lynn added.

Lynn Olins, our STEM Educator, is a critical part of our team and passionate about showing youth how exciting these concepts can be. She brings an extensive background as an educator to the team, including experience teaching elementary school in Fairfield Public Schools and middle school science in Stratford and time as the Director of Education at what was formerly known as the Discovery Museum and Planetarium.

“STEM is the future,” she said. “We want our kids from Bridgeport to be part of that future.”

It’s a future that’s growing and changing at light speed, so our team works to ensure youth have access to the very best—and the people they need to support them as they learn. 

“We’re mentors. We’re caring adults. We’re people that the community trusts with their young people, and our young people know that they can come to us for help with a problem,” said David. 

“We’ve brought in people that had really strong backgrounds in STEM education. And then, on top of that, we work with outside partners to be able to provide cutting-edge educational programs,” said David. Partners like Code Ninjas, Milestone C, and Drone Cadets teach hard skills and show students what’s possible in science and tech. 

David and Lynn aren’t just inspiring students, either. They’ve shown teachers the magic of STEM to enhance lessons, engage students, and help their classes succeed. 

“To expand this program, we’re going to be able to supply professional development for these teachers,” said Lynn. 

“One of the reasons we both do this is the excitement of an aha moment when a kid gets a concept or gets excited about understanding something. Being able to be a part of that is just a great feeling. And it’s special to have those moments with teachers, too.” 

“Being able to equip them to incorporate it into their daily lesson planning is so important,” Lynn shared. As a teacher, she knows how overwhelming it can be to learn a new curriculum without a clear plan for implementing it. “We’re not going to just dump this information on them,” she said. 

Teaching Concepts, Empowering Students

“When a kid comes up to you, especially a kindergartener or first grader, and says ‘I’m an engineer and I know that an engineer solves problems,’ that’s empowering,” David said. “We’re trying to get our youth into a STEM pipeline to build careers in STEM. And that starts way earlier than middle or high school. We’re planting those seeds in our youngest community members.” 

Lynn and David are on a mission to show youth that STEM is all around them—even using some unconventional strategies. One of their most popular lessons was Deconstruction Day, where they gave students the opportunity to take apart common household electronics. When they were confronted with an Xbox, things got real. 

“At first they were apoplectic at the idea,” said Lynn. “Then, it ended up being one of the most difficult objects to take apart.” The activity spurred a conversation about the way these objects are designed to become obsolete and what happens to them once they are thrown away. 

There are countless moments like this in the STEM center—and there will be so many more with our new partnership with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation for The Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center. David and Lynn have cracked the code on STEM education here at Hall, and we can’t wait to learn from their expertise, expand their proven programs, and keep sharing their amazing STEM stories. 

Meet Jon Lett

Meet Jon Lett

Local DJ Jonathan Lett has been a part of the Hall Neighborhood House community since 1985 when his aunt started working for us as a teacher. Over the years, he’s seen many different iterations of our programs, but one thing has stayed the same: “They help people, period.”

Jon Lett (right) with Hall Board Member Ricky Sherrod.

“I would come here as a kid,” he said. His childhood—like that of so many of his peers—was marked by violence and struggle. Hall gave him a safe place—and Hip Hop gave him an outlet. Through music, Jon found a way to deal with death, despair, and poverty—and when he purchased his first turn tables and mic at age 17, he found a path to his future.

As he grew up, music remained part of his story—and so did Hall Neighborhood House. “I worked here from 1999-2003—and then came back in 2006 and worked with the youth department.”

Jon is passionate about making a difference, and he’s been able to work with Hall to do just that. In 2019, he founded Hip Hop 1001, a music and mentorship program operating out of our very own state-of-the-art music studio.

“Mr. Dzurenda [Hall’s Executive Director] let us start at Hall,” he shared.

Hip Hop 1001, named after the address where Jon recorded his first song, is emblematic of the role we try to play in our community—working to make life better. We saw Jon’s passion for the work and the positive difference it could make for youth here on the East Side, and we worked with him to make it happen. Our goal as a community center is to see what our neighbors need and find a way to provide it—no matter what it is.

As Jon puts it, “Hall does everything.”

“They’ve been influential in my career,” he added. “I’ve been in the social services field for over 20 years, and Hall Neighborhood House has been a big part of that.” At this point, Jon is enmeshed in the Hall community. He knows where everything is and he’s experienced our story unfolding for decades!

His work at Hall also helped him get Hip Hop 1001 set up as his own nonprofit. The program, which is headquartered at Hall Neighborhood House’s on-site music studio, uses lessons from Hip Hop to mentor participants. They learn about the elements of Hip Hop, including rapping, DJing, music production, dance, and graphic design. Jon, who is the Executive Director of the program, and his team blend the arts with relationship building to help youth grow, develop, and pursue bold futures.

Jon Lett serves as the DJ for a number of the events at Hall Neighborhood House.

“Hall gives you a chance to grow,” he said.

Jon is also heavily involved across Hall programs. He has been instrumental in our Kings Kids basketball program—another program that uses fun (in this case, basketball) to mentor our youth—helping them get into the Fairfield County league.

He provides security, helps out at events, recruits staff from the community, hires people who are going through tough times, and DJs our annual holiday party. He organizes men’s basketball games on Sundays and always involves a preacher or a speaker to share wisdom with participants. He supervises our new Midnight Basketball program, provides entertainment, and helps with cleanup.

When he’s not at Hall, he works with young children with special needs from the Kennedy Collective, and he regularly brings kids to Hall to volunteer.

Put simply, Jon exemplifies what it means to be part of the Hall community—and his presence is felt across all of our programs and initiatives.

“I love helping people,” he said. “I got it from Hall to help people out. They serve everyone: children to seniors, adults, and youth. They’re a great community ally.”

When asked what word describes Hall, Jon didn’t hesitate. Family, he said. It all comes full circle for him. As a young man at Hall, he spent hours playing basketball and talking about music with his friends. And now, 20 years later, he’s doing that very same thing with another generation of kids, equipping them to put their own hearts back into their community—just like he does.

Leadership Profile: Edith Peralta

Leadership Profile: Edith Peralta

Here at Hall, we are so proud of our amazing team! They work together every day to carry out our mission and serve our neighbors. To celebrate them, we’re starting a Leadership Profile series here on the Hall Neighborhood House blog and in our monthly newsletter so you can meet them and learn more about how they got involved with Hall. 

Edith Peralta, Senior Services Director

Edith Peralta, our Senior Services Director, came to Hall Neighborhood House with extensive experience providing services to seniors and families in Bridgeport. Over the last four years, she’s led and grown our senior program, ensuring it is comprehensive and meets our neighbors’ needs. 

As a mother of three boys living in Bridgeport with a long career in case management for a variety of senior services programs, Edith is deeply involved in the Bridgeport community. In fact, when she came to interview for her current role, she already knew many of the seniors in our program! 

As Senior Services Director, Edith coordinates all the programs we offer our elderly neighbors. That includes social and emotional wellness through the Better Me program, exercise classes, and weekly healthcare/wellness screenings, alongside fun activities like weekly bingo, casino trips, special meals, and more!

“We like to do fun stuff,” she said. 

Edith sees firsthand the power the Hall community has in seniors’ lives, and she works to create connection, community, and fun for them each and every day. To her, Hall is happiness—for herself, the seniors, and the entire community.

“They come here to have fun. They come here to learn. They come here to interact with others,” she said. And Hall is the perfect place for this, with three generations under one roof at the same time.

Hall’s seniors program is currently at full capacity, and we are excited to announce that we are in the process of a redesign and expansion project. Please stop by to see our plans for the future! The senior center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. For seniors who need transportation support, a van is available to ensure they can make it to Hall to enjoy their programs.

“There are so many favorite parts to my job,” Edith said. “I love helping our senior population complete paperwork and solve problems. I love our conversations. I love seeing our regulars every day and knowing they wake up and decide to come right to Hall.”

November 2023 News from Hall

November 2023 News from Hall

It’s been another busy month at Hall Neighborhood House! We celebrated our partnership with Southwest Community Health Center and the accessible care it brings our neighbors, and our students are continuing to develop their STEM skills in our state-of-the-art Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center.

As we enter the sprint toward the end of the year—with its multitudes of holidays, celebrations, and commitments—I want to pause for a moment to express my gratitude for you. Thank you for being part of our community, for supporting our mission, and for continuously stepping up to help us make life better for our neighbors.

We appreciate you!

With gratitude,

Bob Dzurenda
Executive Director


Welcoming Southwest Community Health Center to Hall

We are thrilled to partner with Southwest Community Health Center (SWCHC) to provide comprehensive health care to all of our families at Hall Neighborhood House! We loved getting to celebrate this partnership on November 9 with a special Grand Welcoming event.

Learn more about our partnership with SWCHC and the health services we provide our neighbors in our latest Leadership Profile—featuring Dianne Lillicraf, our Health Services Manager!

Keeping our Community Healthy

At our recent vaccine clinic we provided flu shots to our community! This service is convenient for neighbors of all ages, but it’s an especially important service for our seniors who appreciate the accessibility of care. They know they can get care they trust at Hall.


Supporting STEM Education in Bridgeport Public Schools

The Harding High School Robotics Club is up and running!

Four students in the new club—Eythan, Sezar, Christopher, and Maria—unwrapped a FarmBot Genesis, an open-source robotic farming system that is capable of autonomous planting, watering, weeding, and soil sensing. The robot uses Artificial Intelligence to lay out and plant a crop, monitor growth, and provide feedback on crop health and growth.

Over the coming months, students from Warren Harding High School will be working on building the FarmBot mechanical systems and designing the planting bed. In addition, students from Bullard-Havens Technical High School will help build the planting bed in their wood shop, and students focused on IT will help with coding, software development, and internet connectivity.

We are so excited about enhancing STEM education in Bridgeport Public Schools!

Honoring Ruby Bridges

We celebrated Ruby Bridges Walks to School Day on November 14 by taking a walk around the Hall building to commemorate Ruby Bridges’ courage and the progress we have made towards equality!

We are so thankful to have brave leaders like Ruby Bridges, and we hope to inspire our children to change the world just like she did over 60 years ago.

Behind the Scenes at SHU

The middle schoolers in our after-school program got to take a special trip to Sacred Heart University to watch a theater rehearsal! It was so cool to see talented actors in action—and our students loved getting a behind-the-scenes look at a real production!