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Senior Center gearing up for December soft opening

  • Volunteers Braha Jackson (left) and Felicia Foust greet visitors and check temperatures of those visiting the An- derson County Senior Center.

  • Cherie Phillips stands with pool tables in the new Anderson County Senior Center. Phillips said “pool tables” was one of the most requested items by men on a survey she conducted, asking what seniors want

It’s been almost six months since Anderson County purchased the former Faith Promise Church at 96 Mariner Point Drive for use as a senior center.

A lot has happened in that span — a lot has not happened, as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic halted all senior center activities, but Office on Aging Director Cherie Phillips said the center will open, and when it does there will be a plethora of activities being offered.

Phillips said she has taken the “down time” to hand out surveys to see what activities the seniors would like to have. It’s no surprise that topping that list is “exercise classes,” something that could not happen at the former senior center facility on Edgewood Avenue in Clinton.

There just wasn’t space available.

“Almost everyone wants an exercise program,” Phillips said.

“And the men are very excited that we’re going to have pool tables. Quilting classes are also high on the list.”

While the pandemic has played havoc with getting the center open, Phillips has taken the time to not only find out what programs the seniors are wanting, but to line up instructors for the classes.

“We have a lot of luck with that, plus the UT Extension service has offered to come in and teach some classes,” she said.

“We’re getting a lot of responses for educational classes,” Phillips said. “There are a lot of seniors who now have computers and they’re wanting to learn how to use them effectively.

“It’s the same with smart phones. A lot of seniors are getting smart phones and they want to learn how to use them effectively as well.”

Another area Phillips had heard a lot of feed back on is “brain games.”

“Seniors want to keep their minds active, so we’re looking into that,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the senior center has also brought in numerous visitors who just want to see what it looks like and when it’s going to open.

“I’ve probably signed up 10 seniors a week while we’ve been shut down,” she said.

She also pointed out that her neighbors in Mariner Pointe have been very welcoming. “I don’t how many people have come in wished us luck, or just stopped by to see how we’re getting along,” she said. “We’ve also signed up quite a few seniors from the neighborhood.”

Phillips said she has no issues recruiting teachers for the courses and programs the center wants to offer.

Shut down

When the governor of Tennessee shut down senior centers last spring due the pandemic Phillips said she thought it would give her plenty of time to get the new center organized.

It didn’t.

“When the senior center shut down, the Office on Aging got extremely busy,” she said.

There was still the senior nutrition program to administer — which turned into a very good way to check up on homebound seniors.

The big surprise, Phillips noticed, were the calls to help with living wills and last will and testaments.

“We were kept very busy with that,” she said. “Seniors were scared. The pandemic really shook them up and they wanted to be prepared for the worst case scenario.”

The lull in senior center activities allowed the Office on Aging a chance to focus of senior nutrition. With federal grants, and grants from Second Harvest, the Office on Aging not only continued its senior nutrition program, it expanded it.

“We started giving food out in Rocky Top,” Phillips said. “From the Medford area and on Rocky Top were important for us. Without a grocery store in Rocky Top it because a kind of priority to see that seniors in that area were receiving the food they need.”

Phillips said once the Office on Aging started taking food in that area, more and more grants started coming in.

“You know what we really need?” she asked. “We need a walk-in freezer. Seriously. We received a grant from Second Harvest and part of that is large shipments of meat. Restaurant quality and quantity, but we can’t take it because we don’t have any place to store it.”

Phillips said deciding to reopen the senior center has been on the fore front of a lot of people’s minds.

“I get four, five texts, e-mails, calls a day people asking when we’re going to reopen the senior center,” she said.

First, Phillips said, there has to be some work completed on the center, specifically the walls need painting.

“We can’t really set everything up until the painting is completed,” she said.

There is also the pandemic. The governor has allowed senior centers to reopen, but Phillips said she has had conversations with Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank and there is still some uncertainty if it’s the right thing to do.

“The Mayor has concerns. I have concerns,” Phillips said. “As of right now we’re looking at ‘soft opening’ on Dec. 1. There will be a lot of restrictions in place, but our seniors are really wanting to come back.

“I know they’re bored. They’re lonely. We’ve seen it when we deliver meals. They really want to get out and socialize because that’s important to them. But we have to be sure they will be in a safe environment.”