Alachua County Senior Recreation Center reopens

ElderCare of Alachua County volunteer Frank Turner, 88, loads meals for his Meals on Wheels route.After 15 months of offering remote services during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alachua County Senior Recreation Center reopened July 6.

The center, located at 5701 NW 34th Blvd., began welcoming back visitors following approval from UF Health Shands and the city of Gainesville. Precautions and protocols are in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These practices mirror state and local recommendations as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“We are open with safeguards in place and this will provide a level of normalcy for folks,” said Jeff Lee, ElderCare’s manager of program operations. “I think that’s what I am looking forward to the most — getting people back in and using the center.”

Employees and volunteers never missed a beat during the closure, pivoting to keep programs alive online.

“We quickly realized the pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon. In an attempt to bring more resources to our seniors while the center was closed to in-person activities, we worked as a team to roll out virtual programs,” said Nicholas Hauzer, manager of the Recreation Center and volunteer services for ElderCare of Alachua County, a grant- and donation-funded agency run by UF Health Shands.

UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine dance programs, bingo, yoga, Zumba, tai chi, support groups and UF Health webinars were among the many virtual programs offered during the facility’s closure.

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs supported a collaboration with Uniper, a provider of television- and mobile-based platforms for care delivery and social engagement. The partnership helped supply and support technology for seniors to participate in ElderCare’s virtual programs.

“For me, it was a blessing to be a part of that. We’re still doing it and hope to continue a hybrid approach now that we have reopened,” Hauzer said.

Meals on Wheels is one of other services that continued during the Recreation Center closure. ElderCare supports congregate meal sites and home-delivered meals for seniors in Alachua County. Hot lunches were delivered daily by ElderCare volunteers to homebound seniors.

When the group meal sites were closed, ElderCare staff transitioned to drive-thru physically distanced services. The ElderCare team stood outside in the heat and rain, going above and beyond to make sure seniors received meals.

“We were serving a lot of folks,” said Ray Brady, a Meals on Wheels volunteer. “You could see the value of the service, especially during the pandemic.”

Volunteers provided 116,479 meals to 598 seniors from the beginning of the pandemic through this month. Brady began volunteering through ElderCare in May 2020 and drives four days per week for the program.

“The continuity is good for the route. The people you see every day really appreciate it. I realized early on it shouldn’t be something I do one or two days a week,” Brady said.

ElderCare employees continued reaching out during the Recreation Center closure, making 18,303 calls to 453 seniors. That telephone reassurance was a way to check on older adults who live alone or who are isolated and benefit from a regular connection.

“We have a mission to help the seniors. So, we are going to do whatever we can do to help the seniors. Outside of this building there are still thousands of seniors in Alachua County who need us,” said Lee.

Media contact: Ken Garcia at kdgarcia@ufl.edu or 352-265-9408.