The rooms inside the Anacortes Senior Activity Center are fairly quiet these days, but center Director Sally Hill said she has been far from bored.
Hill will retire from her position at the center Tuesday, June 30, after 33 years.
She and administrative assistant Lea DeVere are some of the only people who have been inside the center since it closed to the public March 11.
Normally, roughly 150 people walk through the front doors every day, so it’s definitely been a change of pace, though Hill didn’t let that stop her work.
“It’s a busy center, even with the doors closed,” DeVere said.
Hill said she’s been tackling all the projects she didn’t have time to do while the center was open, like reorganizing every drawer, cabinet and corner of the center.
Hill is also working at completing paperwork to renew the center’s accreditation status. It is the only accredited senior center in Washington, something Hill has been proud of achieving in her time at the center.
“Sally is an inspiration to us all,” said Jonn Lunsford with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the center. “Her dedication to care for the senior community and for the senior center is unmatched. She really goes out of her way to make people feel at home and to make sure the system is running smoothly.”
The city took over the center in September 2017, which has been a very positive change, Hill said.
“The center has benefited from that in lots of ways,” she said.
Previously, it was under the administrative services umbrella but moved to Parks and Recreation on Jan. 1.
Mayor Laurie Gere said in an email that she is constantly impressed by Hill and her dedication to the city’s seniors. Hill has secured grants and built partnerships to help seniors thrive, Gere wrote.
“On behalf of the city and our seniors, I thank Sally for her dedicated service and wish her the best in her upcoming retirement,” Gere wrote in her email.
Michele Pope, who is the president of the Anacortes Senior Activity Center Foundation, started coming to the center about 10 years ago to join a ukulele group.
“I immediately felt the warmth and vibrancy of the people I met,” Pope wrote in an email. “Walking in the front door, you are greeted by receptionists who immediate make you feel welcome. The tone of the center comes from the leadership that Sally brings.”
Hill said she is proud of leading the charge to put on the Fall Prevention Fair, which happens each September and brings together resources and speakers to teach seniors about balance and what could cause them to fall. The event has helped change the culture at the center, with people talking about falls and working to prevent them, Hill said.
“It has saved lives and improved the quality of life,” she said.
The last few months of pandemic shutdown have been strange ones, Hill said. About 150 people serve as volunteers at the center. Some come by every day, and others visit every once in a while.
Lately, no one has been allowed in the center but Hill, DeVere and the crew from the nutrition department.
Meals for seniors, along with Meals on Wheels, have continued even with the shutdown, Hill said. There has not been a gap related to COVID-19. Even when the kitchen had to close for renovations, the program moved to the church kitchen next door so it could keep feeding people. Seniors need the food, and volunteers have shown up to help deliver it, Hill said.
Hill said she has definitely missed seeing familiar faces. There is a puzzle and book exchange outside the center, so people can drop off their used puzzles and take another one to try, Hill said. That’s also where the center keeps copies of its monthly newsletter. So as people have dropped by, Hill said she’s waved to them through the door.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Hill and DeVere are setting up ways to keep seniors connected to services even though they can’t visit the center.
They are looking to implement a phone tree of sorts to check on vulnerable seniors and hoping to bring more classes to a virtual format.
Seniors are a vulnerable group, so the center can’t open in any way until the county is in Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan, Hill said.
Even then, the City of Anacortes leadership will have to take a hard look at what will be allowed, she said.
Traditional classes, which bring many people together in small rooms, won’t be able to happen. Workout classes, where everyone is breathing hard, are also tricky.
Singing events, including the very popular ukulele jams, are canceled indefinitely, Hill said.
Because there is no real estimate of when the center will be back open, hiring a new leader also does not have a real timeline, Lunsford said. As the city waits to hire a new director, it will work with the Senior Activity Center Foundation, the mayor and the City Council, he said.
As she looks forward to her retirement, Hill said she plans to slow down and spend more time gardening and traveling.
Self-care is something people can put off when they are focused on work, so Hill said she also wants to dedicate more time to things like eating better, getting exercise and sleeping more.