New annex brings seniors back together in Fairbanks

Knowing all too well the effects of social isolation on the health of seniors, both mental and physical, the Fairbanks Senior Center has temporarily pivoted to a new rented space at Shoppers Forum Mall next to Planet Fitness.

The ribbon cutting was on April 13, when visitors got to see the new location.

"It's the first of many good days for our seniors to meet, have lunch, use the internet and who knows - probably some exercise classes in the future," Fairbanks Senior Center Executive Director Darlene Supplee said. 

"Sure was nice to see some of our friends who visited the Senior Center before we closed due to the pandemic." 

Need for services

National Institutes of Health research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions, from high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and a weakened immune system to anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, and even death.

Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to have better cognitive function, live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose.

The Fairbanks Senior Center recognized this and took action.

"The off-site is a satellite station to establish a safe space for seniors to gather," said Darlene Supple. 

Right now, the main Fairbanks Senior Center is closed to the public, due to the lack of physical space to gather.

"Currently our kitchen is in the Fairbanks Senior Center dining room, but due to COVID safety requirements, and the dramatic increase of Meals on Wheels those services exceeded our space limitations. We just sheer ran out of space in our tiny kitchen," Supplee said. "We knew we needed to secure a place to return to congregate meals," she said. "We have had a kitchen expansion on the books for over a year and that construction project will begin late spring and will hopefully be finished at the end of December 2022."

The approximately 2,000 square-foot annex is being rented for $3,000 a month, everything included, for a year.

The space will offer morning coffee, two computer stations, and the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

And a free lunch will be offered Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., for anyone age 60 years or older. Meal donations are appreciated no matter what size.

"The plan is to be open Monday through Friday at this new location, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., until we can officially open our doors back up at our normal location after our kitchen renovation," she said.

That date is still to be determined.

"We are excited to establish a place for our amazing seniors to gather again," Supplee said. "We have missed being part of their family."