Joyce Raye exercise (copy)

People exercising at the Joyce Raye Patterson 50+ Activity Center toss a ball as part of a group activity. The center saw attendance at its classes increase in 2021.

After a depressing 2020, the Joyce Raye Patterson 50+ Activity Center bounced back in 2021.

The center, located at 100 S. 10th St., saw visitors increase in almost all of its available classes and events. It’s a stark contrast from 2020.

“It was really sad,” said Julie Noel, manager at the Joyce Raye Patterson 50+ Activity Center. “I just wanted to cry for all of the people that didn’t have anywhere to go and they were so lonely.”

While the center stayed open in 2020, it pared its activities back to protect its target community, which is the most vulnerable to COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people ages 65 to 80 years old are more likely to get severely ill if they contract it.

Throughout 2021, with the addition of COVID-19 vaccines, the center started to open back up again. It brought back some of its classes and activities, from line dancing to mahjong, added a circuit exercise room and is looking forward to some of its groups that disbanded during 2020 to reunite. Noel said the change in mood is palpable.

“We’re seeing our numbers continue to get better and better,” Noel said.

While attendance improves, the center is keeping an eye on the COVID-19 numbers, especially with the omicron variant. During the past month, the City of St. Joseph Health Department has reported COVID-19 positivity rates surging, with Buchanan County being designated a hotspot by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Noel said that while the center saw its numbers drop with surges in the delta variant, it hasn’t been the same with omicron.

“We really haven’t seen a lot of people stay away,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s because people are just tired of staying in, or if they feel better because they’re vaccinated, or if they don’t care. I really don’t know what the reasoning is.”

The center encourages people to wear masks but does not require them. It also warns people to stay home if they’re sick. Noel said many of the groups know their members well enough that they know if they’re vaccinated or not.

“We have several groups that everybody’s vaccinated in. And we have others where they’re not,” she said.

Joyce Raye Patterson staff will continue keeping an eye on the COVID-19 numbers to keep members safe to avoid patrons feeling isolated again. During the winter, Noel said the space provides a much-needed community with activities that most don’t get in their day-to-day activities.

“We have a lot of opportunities here to try and reach a variety of people’s interests levels, fitness levels and we would just invite people to come and see what we’re all about,” Noel said.

While Noel jokes that the facility, formerly known as the Joyce Raye Patterson Senior Center, has had the misconception of being a senior home and looks boring from the outside, it’s bustling with activities. And with the proper precautions, staff members are making sure the community stays safe during the pandemic.

“If (seniors) are finding themselves depressed or anxious, this is the time to come and explore and see what we have here. We sanitize very frequently, and we’re trying to keep everyone safe,” Noel said.

For information about a membership to the Joyce Raye Patterson 50+ Activity Center, call 816-271-4666.

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug

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