After more than a year of being closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Burke County Senior Center and the East Burke Senior Center are finally reopening their doors to local seniors.
Center staffers made a special effort to serve seniors even while they were closed, providing virtual programming, take-home crafts and drive-thru events.
“We have had a very positive response to our virtual programming,” said Roxanne Powell, director of senior services for Burke County. “We have provided online exercise classes, Medicare 101 education, instructional programs and various heritage arts and crafts. To encourage participants to check in with the senior center, we offered drive-thru events, including craft project pickups, Friendsgiving bags, cooking/baking kits that we prepared together via Zoom, and so much more.”
Technology was an issue for some seniors, though.
“In the beginning, it was challenging for all of us as we learned to Zoom and use social media to make contact with one another,” Powell said. “By telephone and emailed links, we taught seniors how to use these programs so that they could join us online. Not everyone was receptive to it, and that is why we began the drive-thru events.”
She outlined what county officials considered as they looked to reopening the senior centers this month.
“We have been in communication with other senior centers across the state of North Carolina and monitoring their openings successes and challenges,” Powell said. “Although we were eager to open our doors, we wanted to make sure we did so slowly and correctly.
“During our closing, we received numerous telephone calls from participants asking when we would be reopening. Most complained they were socially isolated, bored and eager to get out of their homes. They were thankful for the virtual programming we were providing, but missed being onsite with their friends and senior center family.”
The modified opening this month includes changes to schedules and procedures at the centers intended to keep seniors and staff members safe. All visitors will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing. Only the main entrance to the building will be open, where visitors must check in with staff members. Meals will not be provided or allowed to be shared for the time being. Hand-sanitizing stations will be available throughout both facilities.
“Right now, the senior center doors are open to participants,” Powell said. “Due to capacity limitations, we have had to modify some of our programming. For example, we are offering chair exercise both in-person and via Zoom. Our exercise equipment and billiards room require a pre-registration, which they can do beginning the day before they plan to attend. Because of the proximity of the exercise equipment, computer stations and pool tables, we have had to limit the number of individuals allowed in those rooms so that we can continue to maintain proper social distancing. The registration process also allows time for staff to clean between participants, as our goal is to provide a safe and consumer friendly environment for all to enjoy. All other programs and classrooms do have a maximum capacity limit, therefore we are asking all participants and guests to stop at the front desk to sign-in, so that we can monitor the number of individuals participating in those activities.”
Seniors can schedule an appointment for a class or an activity by calling the center at 828-430-4147. The centers will not accept reservation requests by email or through Facebook.
Powell said seniors do not have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in center activities.
“We recommend seniors use their own judgement and consider their own health conditions before returning to the centers,” she said.
She explained that in addition to providing fun activities, the senior centers serve as information and referral centers for older adults as well.
“Our staff continue to be available, both in person and virtually, to help individuals access available resources in the community,” Powell said.
She noted that the reopening is taking place at a significant time.
“May is Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme is ‘Communities of Strength,’” Powell said. “As stated by the Administration for Community Living: ‘Older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys and difficulties. There are many things we all can do to nurture ourselves, reinforce our strength and continue to thrive. Connecting with others is one of the most important — it plays a vital role in our health and well-being, and in that of our communities.’ We want to encourage seniors to return to the Burke County senior centers and help us show the community that we are connected and stronger when we are together.”
Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.