Among friends

Senior center staff strive to keep older residents upbeat, active and socially engaged

December 28, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,

Marjory Kennedy makes sure the 300 weekly visitors to the Aberdeen Senior Center have opportunities to socialize, exercise, dine and participate in all manner of activities. As manager, she also makes sure seniors have access to all the resources they might need to stay in their homes, pay for their medications and their utilities, and keep themselves as active as possible.

"I am 86, but I can still jitterbug," said Alvina Lenccycki, sporting a Santa cap and dancing to what she called funky music. "I don't sit still."

Kennedy organized the center's annual Christmas party, complete with a disc jockey, Santa and holiday fare. The floor was frequently filled with couples two-stepping and rows of line dancers. Even those on the sidelines sang along or shot photos with digital cameras, images they immediately shared.

"I love dancing," said Mary Anne Horton, 67, who did a few twirls with Santa, played by 81-year-old Bill Fortuna. "And everyone here taught me how."

That upbeat attitude is the goal, said Karen Winkowski, administrator for the Office on Aging. The county's five - soon to be six - senior centers can be a lifeline. The staff helps identify problems, particularly involving financial issues, and then can connect seniors with outreach and resources.

Center managers are well versed in what resources are available, Winkowski said.

"We want to keep our seniors as active and socially engaged as possible," she said. "We really have impromptu families pop up, especially over the holidays, with newly acquainted sets of friends."

Kennedy not only found an apartment for 74-year-old Leah Meile, she helped furnish it.

"Marge helped me get my apartment, and the day after I moved in with just a TV and a walker, she came with furniture and a microwave," Meile said.

It is all about knowing where to go for help, Kennedy said.

When Hilda Sweeting's family did not want her to drive, Kennedy helped arrange transportation so the 84-year-old could continue coming to the center. When Meile wanted to leave assisted living, the center and Harford's Community Services found her an apartment.

George Smith, 88, calls the center he has patronized for a decade his second home. He does most of the landscaping, stocks the bird feeders he built and repairs furniture. He recently built mah-jongg boards for friends who wanted to play the game.

When he lost his wife of 65 years, Smith said, "This center helped me get through it."

"There is a lot of activity here and plenty of company," Smith said. "I have been to a lot of senior centers, and this one is the best."

The Aberdeen center has just installed a new computer lab with equipment that is helping many write their memoirs. Patrons can work out in the fitness center, play cards or billiards in the game room and gather for lunch in the spacious dining area. If they want to cut loose a little, the recreation room offers ample space for dancing. There is also a quiet room for those who want private conversation, a place to work on their scrapbooks or, like Jean Garcia, write poetry.

"I think I am going to be published," she said.

Garcia, 73, credits the center with pulling her out of depression. She tends the reception desk and phones one day a week and takes several classes on the other days.

"You can't help but make friends here," she said. "If you don't want to be alone, all you have to do is mention that. I am really upbeat now and I owe that to this center."

Tom Shivers, 70, worked a jigsaw puzzle in the lounge while waiting for a pool game to start.

"I come here to relax and shoot pool," he said. "I get to talk to all my friends every day. We have become a real family."

In the dining room Meile, who is diabetic, gets advice on her diet and information on how to navigate the health care system. Her caseworker was recently able to procure a motorized scooter for her.

"I love everything about this place, the parties, dancing, ceramics and art," she said. "I have to thank Marge, this center and the Department of Aging for putting my life back together.

"I have made so many friends here. I think this year will be my best Christmas ever."

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