The Austintown Senior Center has ended 2012 on a good note, seeing increased membership and activities, a new director and staff, and a new set of wheels for road trips.
After voters approved a tax levy in 2011, the Senior Center was funded and ready to move forward. In February, township trustees hired Jim Henshaw as the new director of the Senior Center. Also approved were Kay Lavelle as the new activities director and Bruce Ricker as activities aide.
"When I took over, we were averaging 46 people per day at the center," Henshaw said. "Now we are seeing an average of 61 per day."
He said since February, 125 additional seniors signed up as members.
One thing that attracted a lot more are the programs the center offers. Henshaw said programs are brought about when a suggestion is made. He puts out a sign up sheet and if enough people are interested, a program is developed. One that has seen a lot of success is the art program.
"Our painting classes have grown from seven to 16," he said.
The center brought in Sue Jacobs from Cortland, who Henshaw said is an extremely good teacher. She has been able to teach the arts to seniors and they have responded by turning out unbelievably great work.
One key ingredient at the center is health, with a wide variety of classes offered from basic exercise to yoga.
"Our first priority is wellness," Lavelle said. "We have a lot of health programs and also help seniors with their Medicare and insurance issues."
Henshaw said a big part of wellness is just getting out for many seniors. He said when people retire or lose a spouse, they begin to stagnate. The Senior Center helps fill the void by providing a place to go and socialize, and stay active.
"A lot of people are under the assumption that a senior facility is full of old people with wheelchairs and walkers just sitting around," Lavelle said. "Our senior center is not based on anyone's model. Everyone who comes here is very active."
The new van the center purchased is good example of seniors on the move. The center is able to schedule one-day trips for shopping, movies and even lunch. So far, the van has been full for the outings.
Another element added this year was the Veteran's Corner. Ron Borngesser from American Legion Post 301 in Austintown came up with the idea and it has proven to be a big plus at the center. It is staffed every Tuesday and offers help for veterans who don't know how to get benefits they are entitled to. It also offers a chance to socialize with other veterans who can lend a sympathetic ear.
For 2013, the growth and activities will continue with several new items on the drawing board. Henshaw said in January the center's kitchen will get a final inspection and will be licensed. He said the kitchen will be used to cater some of the center's events, but will not be used for daily meals.
"To serve daily meals would require a whole different set of parameters and licensing," he said.
The center will also continue to host area meetings. Presently the 20/9 Ham Radio Club meets at the center and in February, the Mahoning Valley Olde Car Club will begin holding meetings there. The rental of the meeting space creates a little cash flow for the center.
Henshaw said he is also looking at becoming a disaster shelter. The kitchen and space would fit the bill and the ham radio operators said they would be willing to set up a base unit at the facility.
Lavelle said one class she is looking into would involve home repairs for women. She said the membership includes a lot of senior women who don't have a spouse at home to help out. When they have minor repairs such as replacing a faulty electric outlet, they end up paying high prices for a technician to come and do it. By training them on how to make the repairs, the women can save money and feel secure in knowing the job is being done correctly.
Henshaw said the Bingo at the facility is another area that may see a change. He said a lot of seniors who are members still work. They can't get to the center during the normal daylight hours.
"To accommodate them, we are looking at closing during one day of the week and opening in the evening for Bingo," he said.
One other goal Henshaw is working towards for the new year is obtaining a grant to put in a portable dance floor. He said it will take matching funds from local businesses and individuals, but it will be a big asset for the center.
"Believe it or not, it is the guys at the center who asked for a dance floor," Henshaw said.