Active aging

Seniors staying busy, involved in community

Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2004


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  Members of the Red Hat Society's local chapter ride their float in the Progress Days parade last summer. The group supplies a steady stream of activities for seniors. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Clarice Kipp, Zane Olson and Natasha Ala-Johnson talk about a test during a class at Kenai Peninsula College last spring. The college offers heavily-discounted rates to Alaskan seniors.,

Photo by M. Scott Moon

There is a not-so-new face in the crowd at Kenai Peninsula College.

Clay Brockel, a local senior citizen, has been taking advantage of a privilege granted to Alaska senior citizens: Taking classes at the college at a reduced cost.

For the last 20 years, Brockel has taken a range of courses from welding to a history of jazz.

"It's more or less to keep my brain functioning," he said jokingly.

With an aging population on the peninsula, organizations are working to provide opportunities for seniors to get involved. And there are a variety of activities to choose from.

Brockel, a retired director of Kenai Peninsula Community College, thinks his experience taking classes as a senior is an example of how seniors can enjoy themselves in the community.

"I appreciate my contacts with the younger people," Brockel said.

He said he would like to see more seniors take advantage of this opportunity.

In 1990, there were 3,151 people age 60 and up in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. In 2000, there were 5,316 in the same category.

Rachael Craig, director of the Kenai Senior Citizens Center, said the peninsula used to have a young population. With more families in the area, the population has aged, she said.

While the senior center has always worked to provide activities, the center, along with others in the community, have worked to accommodate the aging population, she said. They are always planning new events in a positive atmosphere.

Craig has seen results from these efforts. For instance there has been an increase in popularity in certain senior activities at the Kenai center in recent years, such as volunteering. Recorded volunteer hours, mostly done by seniors, have nearly doubled, she said. Providing activities to seniors gives them a chance to interact with their own age group and draws them out of the home, she said.

"As you age, you need to remain active," Craig said.

Taking classes has provided Brockel with an opportunity to stay active.

He said when a person ages, it can be difficult to get out and do things. Many aging community members do not like to drive at night, in the winter or do not drive at all, he said.

For those who cannot transport themselves to an activity, the Central Area Rural Transit System Inc. (CARTS) is a public transportation service that drives people to their destination for $2 per zone. A ride must be scheduled the day before. CARTS operates from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily. For those who need rides to a job, it operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

"There's a lot to do around here for seniors," Brockel said.

Julie Niederhauser, library assistant at the Kenai Community Library, agreed. On Tuesday evening, a group of festive book lovers met at Paradisos Restaurant for the library book club's annual meeting to select the next year's reading list.

The book club has been meeting for six years on the last Tuesday of every month at the library to share their thoughts, feelings and love of literature — and to have a good time, Niederhauser said.

"It's a great group of people," she said.

At the end of the year, everybody brings in book suggestions for the next reading list and a theme usually emerges. Next year will be an Asian theme with some classics mixed in, she said.

For those who prefer to write, the Kenai library also facilitates a writers' group that meets the first and third Thursday of every month at the library.


Members of the Red Hat Society's local chapter ride their float in the Progress Days parade last summer. The group supplies a steady stream of activities for seniors.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

In addition, there is the annual "cabin fever reliever" — the Central Peninsula Writers' Night at the Kenai senior center. This year's event will take place Feb. 11. Aspiring Pulitzer winners and just recreational writers can submit their writing to be judged and read. The event benefits the Kenai senior center.

Volunteers are needed at schools, too. Soldotna Elementary School has a foster grandparents program that partners volunteer grandparents with children to work on reading, said Principal Carolyn Cannava. She said the volunteers will read a book to the child and discuss it, have the child read a book to them or just chat.

"They feel alive with the children," Cannava said. "They're a wonderful addition to the school."

The federally funded program provides a small stipend for volunteers, Cannava said. She said the school always is looking for more volunteers.

Cards top the list of interests at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center, according to Leigh Sanger, program administrator. She said some serious pinochle games take place Mondays and Thursdays.

"We just don't mess with pinochle day," she said.

At the Sterling Senior Center, volunteer Cindy Sherlock said there are many activities for seniors in the area — and plenty of friendly people.

Sherlock is a fan of craft fairs. The center hosts bazaars throughout the year such as the Trash to Treasures event, which is a large garage sale, and the Christmas bazaar. This year, she did so much craft show shopping she didn't remember what she purchased where.

The Forget-Me-Not Care Center in Kenai is a daycare facility for seniors who cannot get around on their own. But there is plenty of activity there to keep people busy, said Linda Flowers, program director for the center. On Wednesdays, for example, a country band comes and plays, she said. Everybody makes a circle and dancing takes place in the middle, she said.

The center is a safe and fun environment, Flowers said, adding that transportation is provided.

Kathy Gonzalez knows it is never too late to start exercising. The owner of Total Health Fitness and Dance Center in Seward does low-impact exercises at the Seward Senior Citizens Center three times a week.

"I just love working with that age group," she said. "They're so dedicated."

The class focuses on cardiovascular, flexibility and resistance training, she said. It is a good workout for everybody — including those with arthritis, she said.

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