Senior centers keep residents engaged

Wendy SmithFarragut, The Farragut Insider

The West Knox County Senior Center, located on the first floor of the former Faith Lutheran Church at 239 Jamestowne Blvd., has been closed to visitors since March of last year. Every week, the office receives several phone calls from regular participants who are anxious to return.


“They miss their senior center,” says Darrell Gooding, coordinator of the facility.

The staff misses them, too, but since the Covid-required closure, they’ve been hard at work figuring out how to engage participants safely. Due to the population, that means coming up with virtual activities as well as programs that don’t require a computer.

The county has six senior centers, and the staff work together to share ideas and resources. The result is a calendar full of opportunities for seniors to connect and learn. A list of virtual programs includes line dancing, cooking, bingo, book and television discussion groups, show-and-tell sessions with specific themes and even hangman. Gooding has converted a popular Tuesday Trivia game he hosted at the West Knox center to a virtual game. The benefit of the virtual offerings is that those who normally attend classes at one center can participate in programs offered at all the centers.

“It eliminates the geographic barriers that are normally in place and allows us to offer a wider variety of programs.”

Other activities are aimed at seniors who don’t care for Zoom classes. A knitters’ group assigns projects to work on at home that are collected to benefit specific organizations. Exercise classes like SAIL (Stay Active & Independent for Life) and Tai Chi are offered in alternate locations with social distancing. Gooding even emails Tuesday Trivia questions to seniors so they can play with family members.

The West Knox center has a new program that allows seniors to borrow books from its library. Book donations picked up during the pandemic, so the number of available titles is nearing 500. Members can request the list and choose books that will be packaged and left on a bench outside the door. Puzzles are also available for checkout. The center’s collection of puzzles doubled, thanks to a donation from the Karns center.

Senior Walks will resume in March. The group typically meets the third Tuesday of each month at various locations (Ijams Nature Center, Forks of the River, Concord Park, Melton Hill Park, UT Gardens, Seven Islands Birding Park, etc.). Each walk is led by one or more senior services staff. The walks are outdoors and are done with physical distancing. To register or get info, contact Carole Conaway at Carole.Conaway@knoxcounty.org/seniors or 865-288-3761.

An offering available throughout the county is the Sunshine Line, a way for seniors to connect with each other by phone. Participants email brief info about themselves and are matched with other seniors who want to chat. This program is designed to address the social isolation that happens when family is far away, Gooding says.

He worries about all the seniors in the community – not just the ones he’s met at the center. One of his biggest challenges is connecting with those who aren’t engaged but could benefit from the center’s programming.

“I’ve always thought about it, but it’s even more important during the pandemic.”

If you know someone in Knox County who could benefit from programming offered by our senior centers, visit knoxcounty.org/seniors to see newsletters from each center.

Town of Farragut marketing and public relations coordinator Wendy Smith is your reliable Farragut insider.

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