'Just like home, only better'

New housing allows seniors to maintain independence

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2008


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  Fireweed Villa, pictured below, sits next to the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Pearl Burton reads the newspaper Tuesday afternoon in her apartment at Fireweed Villa in Soldotna. She moved into the new senior housing development in January.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

A couple months ago, Virginia Penson paid $100 a month for taxi rides to and from the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center. Two months ago, Pearl Burton scaled a flight of stairs to reach her apartment. Now, the two are neighbors, and everything they need is on the ground floor, just a few steps from their doors.

As new residents of the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center's Fireweed Villa, Penson and Burton can participate in the center's programs and activities while retaining enough independence to sip wine on an antique love seat, knit by the fireplace or create an oil painting.

"Everyone's so congenial," Penson said. "It's like one happy family."


Fireweed Villa, pictured below, sits next to the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Penson and Burton occupy two two-bedroom apartments at the senior center's new independent housing facility. They both moved in the last week of January. And with their own kitchen and bathroom facilities equipped to accommodate people with disabilities right down to heated floors, they say they have everything they could ever want. Penson has enough room to entertain and Burton has a studio to paint and sew in. Penson's church is right across the street, and for both women, lunch with friends is just a few steps away in the center's main building.

"This building has everything you can put in for a disabled person," Burton said. "(They) have a community room complete with fireplace. It's just like home, only better."

Fireweed Villa began as part of a strategic plan five years ago. The center wanted to build a facility that would allow seniors to sell their homes and move into something that didn't require heavy maintenance, Jan Fena, director of the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center, said. The project cost approximately $1.5 million and was possible through a grant from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and the Denali Commission.

"The apartment complex consists of six two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments," Fena said, adding that the apartments are built in such a way that allows the seniors to stay in one place as they age without moving to an assisted living facility. "They're fully handicapped, visual and hearing equipped with a full sprinkler system as an added safety feature."

The community will have a chance to see Fireweed Villa first hand. An open house celebrating the new independent housing facility will take place at 2 p.m. today. Fena said the center invited representatives from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and the Denali Commission as well as the governor, senators and representatives and the local mayors. The event will begin with a tour of the housing facility and will end with refreshments at the center's main building.

Fireweed Villa is the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center's first endeavor at a housing complex, Fena said, and seven of the eight units are already rented. The apartments rent at a market rate, Fena said, meaning that the price of a unit at the senior center is comparable to that of other apartments in the area. Each unit features a bathroom and kitchen with a stove, a refrigerator, a dishwasher and a washer and dryer. Residents can entertain in a community room and a greeting area, and Fena said soon there will be a tub therapy room.

"That way seniors who need that type of therapy do not even need to leave the complex," she said. "They can have the therapist come in and provide the services right there in the complex."

The Soldotna Senior Citizens Center isn't the only low-income housing option for Kenai Peninsula seniors. The Sterling Senior Center showed off its facility at an open house last Wednesday, and center director Judy Warren says the first resident will move in April 1.

Sterling's new housing facility the center's second complex is also fully equipped under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Warren said the building houses 10 two-bedroom apartments, three of which also have two bathrooms. At 900 square feet, each apartment also comes with its own kitchen and includes storage space.

"We completed a 10-year plan prior to doing the first housing unit," Warren said. "As part of that 10-year plan of operation we planned two housing units. (Seniors) can come and fill out an application."

Rent for the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center's new Fireweed Villa is $825 a month for the two-bedroom apartments and $700 a month for the one-bedroom. Apartments at the Sterling Senior Center cost $850 with one bathroom and $875 with two. Warren said residents will also be able to participate in the programs the Sterling Senior Center offers.

"We have a lot of activities," she said. "We have a card night, we have a movie night, bingo. We also serve meals five days a week and just do a variety of things."

Penson and Burton said living at the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center makes it easier for them to perform simple tasks such as going to the grocery store and hair dresser. Every Thursday a senior center van takes them to Safeway, and they make monthly trips to Fred Meyer. A center employee waits in the van for the residents to do their shopping, Penson said, and helps them carry their purchases back to their apartments.

With the apartment's high ceilings and their own furniture, both women say they don't feel like they're living in an apartment. But, they add, one would have to live there to really appreciate it.

"It's comfortable and cozy," Penson said. "It's like moving from a big house to a small house."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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