Plano's Sam Johnson Recreation Center innovates to keep members engaged during closure

Roughly 100 members drove along a cone-lined path of city staff and council members bearing signs and smiles before opening their trunks for a staff-made, packaged meal at a Nov. 18 Thanksgiving event. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Roughly 100 members drove along a cone-lined path of city staff and council members bearing signs and smiles before opening their trunks for a staff-made, packaged meal at a Nov. 18 Thanksgiving event. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

Roughly 100 members drove along a cone-lined path of city staff and council members bearing signs and smiles before opening their trunks for a staff-made, packaged meal at a Nov. 18 Thanksgiving event. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
Roughly 100 members drove along a cone-lined path of city staff and council members bearing signs and smiles before opening their trunks for a staff-made, packaged meal at a Nov. 18 Thanksgiving event. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
Roughly 100 members drove along a cone-lined path of city staff and council members bearing signs and smiles before opening their trunks for a staff-made, packaged meal at a Nov. 18 Thanksgiving event. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Logging on to Zoom to take part in virtual yoga was one of a few firsts for many members of Plano's Sam Johnson Recreation Center for Adults 50+ over the last eight months.

The center closed its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic three days short of its one-year anniversary of reopening after major renovations. Since then, the center's staff has dedicated themselves to reaching their members in innovative ways, Recreation Supervisor Raney Krev said.

Among those innovations was the continuation of the facility's annual Thanksgiving meal via curbside pickup Nov. 18. Roughly 100 members drove along a cone-lined path of city staff and council members bearing signs and smiles before opening their trunks for a staff-made, packaged meal.

The feeling of seeing that many of the center's members after eight months of distance was comparable to Christmas morning, Krev said.

"It really just brought so much joy to me and my staff knowing that we were able to hold this event, knowing that we were able to see our patrons and make sure that they're doing well and they're doing okay," she said.


The Council's Christmas Carryout is expected to take place in a similar fashion Dec. 18, and Krev is hopeful that events like those will continue to happen, she said.

Other recreation center events have taken shape online, with virtual classes for yoga, Pilates, water coloring and other arts. The virtual yoga classes has had up to 20 attendees, Krev said, whereas the typical in-person attendance was roughly 25.

"It shows that we're reaching people," Krev said. "It shows that they're wanting that involvement and that interaction."

Zoom bingo, one of the center's most recently added virtual options, is expected to gain popularity, Krev said. In-person bingo, which typically garnered more than 115 attendees, was one of the biggest draws for the center before the pandemic. Roughly 18 members joined the first virtual event, she said.

Long-time Sam Johnson Recreation Center member Flo Kole said she expects to join the next round of bingo online. Kole was an avid participant of the weekly bingo games, often helping with cards and acting as a caller for games.

"I was able to print out my card, so I'm ready," Kole said. "I'm ready."

Still, the most popular virtual event so far has been a monthly Coffee with the Crew, where staff members simply chat with members, Krev said. That interaction is comforting for members and staff alike, she said.

Staff at the facility continue to work on reaching those with limited online access, Krev said, as well as an operations plan for when the facility might reopen. With 3,000 members, there is more work to be done to connect with everyone, she said.

New memberships for Sam Johnson Recreation Center are not currently being offered, but senior adults interested in becoming a member of one of the city's open recreation facilities can do so here.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct membership details for city of Plano recreation centers.
By Liesbeth Powers
Liesbeth graduated from Baylor University with a degree in new media journalism in December 2018. She gained her newspaper experience as a staff writer and multimedia editor at her campus paper, The Baylor Lariat. Liesbeth joined the Community Impact team in August 2019, where she reports on all things Plano and Richardson, including Plano City Council and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.


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