Alaska senior centers differ in approach to activities during pandemic

When the novel coronavirus COVID-19 reared its head in March, senior citizens were advised to take notice. This new illness was hard on those age 65 or older, people were told, and indeed, four months later, statistics bear this out: 80% of COVID-19 deaths affect the elderly population. But consensus on just how and where seniors should ride out the pandemic, and beyond, isn’t clear. And seniors across Alaska, like everyone else, are balancing risk and necessity with a desire for normalcy.

Senior centers play a huge role in the lives of older Alaskans, meeting physical, mental and social needs, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Clapping back at the notion that they are merely hubs for bingo and bridge games, senior centers across the country, and right here in Alaska, offer a wide variety of activities and services designed to provide opportunities for community connection and, in some cases, health care.

Alaska’s senior centers, like many service-related businesses across the state, have undergone a wide range of policy and program shifts related to COVID-19. Depending upon the community, some have reopened to meet the needs of seniors requiring assistance with meals or basic healthcare. Others have tentatively planned a return to exercise classes with vastly-adjusted schedules and participant numbers. But there are also centers, particularly those operated with high numbers of volunteers (often seniors themselves), that are not yet open to their members.

The watchword seems to be vigilance in checking a center’s website for current information related to reopening or closures, and following your own medical providers’ guidance for participating once centers to open their doors. Senior Voice reached out to several Alaska senior centers, and while many are not open, some do have basic services available for their members, and we have listed them here.

Anchorage Senior Activity Center: Currently closed, the center is offering Zoom (online) classes on a variety of topics. The Senior Borealis member newsletter is also distributed monthly in an expanded version to provide ideas for exercises and other ways to keep body and mind active during this pandemic.

Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center: Part of Chugiak Senior Citizens, Inc., the organization provides both housing and services to seniors and disabled adults. Currently closed, senior center activity staff have instituted a “Kindness Ambassador” program matching center members to children in the greater Chugiak-Eagle River community and encouraging both to write letters in an effort to increase communication among seniors and teach valuable letter-writing skills to kids. Call 907-688-2677 for information.

Wasilla-Area Seniors: Some classes are back in session at the Wasilla Senior Center, with meal delivery, transportation, chore services still provided by arrangement. The Wasilla Area Seniors organization is also responsible for six housing complexes for individuals age 62 and older.

Seward Senior Center: Director Dana Paperman told me in an email that Seward Senior Citizens, Inc., the non-profit organization managing the senior center, is providing two free personal shopping vouchers per person in partnership with the Seward Prevention Coalition. The center is also gradually easing into activity programming with a “Walking With (trekking) Poles” class offered Monday through Friday mornings; and Tai Chi in the Park Monday through Friday at noon. Visit the center’s website for times and meeting places.

Southeast Senior Services: This Catholic Community Service organization covering much of Southeast Alaska has suspended congregate meals and group activities at all senior centers until further notice. However, seniors may still receive transportation assistance and home-delivered meals. To inquire about services available, please visit the organization website at

Erin Kirkland is a Senior Voice Alaska staff writer based in Anchorage.