Senior Neighbors has five locations in West Michigan. The center in Lowell was first established in 1972 originally located at 215 E. Main Street. On June 21, 1989, after a year of transition at a church and middle school there, a dedication took place at the George Hale house, the current location of Senior Neighbors in Lowell. Part of the Senior Neighbor Mission Statement reads, “We focus on health and wellness programming as we work to aggressively pursue our mission of Enhancing the Lives of Seniors.” Activities are geared toward those 60 and older.
A Home Away from Home
Each day an average of 25 seniors come to be part of an activity or eat lunch. Sometimes both! The Lowell Senior Center enriches the lives of those who enter the doors of the historic Lowell home. When aging it can be easier to sit at home with little or no connection to the outside world. Seniors often find themselves lonely and even depressed as days turn to weeks, turn to months or even years without regular social interaction.
The Lowell community is fortunate to have a place where seniors can gather with friends, meet new people, have special outings, take part in classes, and have lunch every day during the week. The hardest step is the first – walking through the door. But those 60 or older will find the people inside are welcoming. There’s a good chance the first visit will not be the last.
The center’s coordinator for the past two years, Terra Bieneman, is familiar with working with seniors. She speaks enthusiastically when answering questions about the programs she lines up or the people she sees regularly.
It can be hard to prepare three meals a day for just one or two people. Senior Neighbors offers lunch each day during the week. A suggested donation of $2.75 if you are 60+ and $3.50 for those under 60 is collected for each meal. Reasons for having lunch at the center include having a meal you don’t have to prepare yourself and a reason to get out and socialize.
Meals are healthy and well-balanced provided by Meals on Wheels and prepared at the center Monday through Friday. Some from the community come every day. Others pick and choose when they don’t feel like staying home. Maryanne Geldersma says, “You have the option of coming here for lunch if you don’t feel like making something.” Oftentimes people will choose to eat lunch before or after an activity they’re participating in at the center. During celebration events and Hand and Foot days the center can serve up to 50 people their lunch.
Activities for All
The center’s activities keep physical and mental awareness in mind. The life of a senior need not be sedentary. Twice a week an exercise class is held at Schneider Manor and once a week a walk club is offered. Wii bowling also provides a means to promote physical activity. And brain games give the mind a workout.
A weekly knitting session provides a time to socialize while working on projects. Once a week seniors gather for bingo. Monday and Friday are popular Hand and Foot card game days. Special presentations on topics such as storm chasing and a USS submarine are offered. Other programs focusing on senior needs such as medicare enrollment, foot care, and medications are also available.
During the month of October, Cooking Matters was offered. Approximately eight people joined the four week class, some for a second time. A representative from the YMCA discussed cooking at home, healthy and nutritious choices, and made something with the class during their hour and a half time together. Participants received a book with recipes and information on health and nutrition as well. A hands-on experience, class members chopped vegetables, grated cheese, or helped with food preparation in some way. And of course whatever was made each week was sampled at the end of class.
One of the participants, Jeane Rockwell, says, “I like meeting new people.” Six years ago she started coming to activities after becoming a new Lowell resident. Senior Neighbors gave her the opportunity to make new friends in the community. She and a friend from the group worked together to bring something to a potluck on the last day of class.
A monthly birthday party with entertainment is reason to celebrate. Similar events like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and others throughout the year are other reasons to combine a party and entertainment. During October’s birthday celebration Shannon Hughes sang and played keyboard. A center patron saw her perform and had her recruited for the party. “I enjoyed discovering such a quaint building dedicated to helping older people have an active social life. I love seeing the way that music can connect people. It is truly amazing to me to enter a place as a stranger and leave as a friend.” Hughes recalls of her first gig at Senior Neighbors. Shannon does music therapy for Barry County Commission on Aging. She says, “Each song that I sing brings back a different time, event, emotion, and/or memory of the people I sing for. For a moment they are young again, feeling the same feelings that they may have felt decades ago. It brings them all sorts of positive effects.” It was easy to see those those effects as she and senior participants sang “oldies”. At one point there was even a little dancing.
Many of the presentations and classes are offered at no cost. A suggested donation of $3.00 for exercise classes and $2.00 for craft classes is requested making participation affordable.
On the Go
Activities and offerings for seniors aren’t limited to the center’s walls. Field trips to nearby establishments find their way onto the calendar.
Twice a month a trip to a restaurant takes place. One of these excursions is a mystery destination. This popular event has the group guessing where they’ll be eating dinner as they travel to the destination. Transportation is provided with a $4.00 suggested donation round trip.
Senior Neighbors is one of five organizations working together to form RideLink which is coordinated by The Rapid and the Area Agency on Aging of West Michigan. This service provides transportation for those 60 and over living in Kent County to destinations within the county. Participants can call 616-774-1288 for registration information or can fill out an online application.
Transportation Coordinator for Senior Neighbors Darlene Bentz comments, “RideLink transports seniors for medical needs, meals, social activities, social interaction and other reasons that transportation is needed.” A grandparent wanting to visit a friend or relative with no means of getting there can use RideLink during hours of operation for pickup and drop off. The Lowell Senior Neighbors location offers a weekly trip to Meijer. Seniors should never feel stuck when it comes to transportation. There is a suggested $2.00 donation for use of RideLinks.
The Lowell Senior Center wants to be part of the community they serve. They participate in Alpha Family Center’s bottle drive where funds are collected for expectant families in need. Members of the Nifty Knitters club have made and donated items to various causes in the community as well. On Veteran’s Day any vet is invited to stop in for lunch, which will be paid for by contributions from the seniors who are eating lunch that day.
KDL offers computer classes and a book club for seniors as well as a traveling library. They come to Senior Neighbors with books requested which are checked out and brought back a couple weeks later when the librarian returns.
Gilda’s Club also shares the building and uses it in the evenings.
May Be Habit Forming
The Lowell Senior Neighbors location offer numerous opportunities to socialize, learn something new, practice a hobby, get physical and mental activity, eat lunch, have fun and much more. Life at the center easily becomes part of a routine. There are things to look forward to attending. There are friends new and old to hang out with. Aging does not equal a stoppage in activity.
Carol Obetts and Doug Corlis come for lunch every day. With a smile, Carol says, “Everyone here is so helpful. If anyone has a question there’s someone who can help.” Carol and Doug met through Senior Neighbors and have formed a relationship. Leo Peters and his wife Roselynne have been part of Senior Neighbors since Leo’s retirement 16 years ago. It’s refreshing to socialize with peers.
Those who enter the center are encouraged to participate and ask questions. If an answer isn’t immediately known there’s a good chance one can be found. Terra says she has enjoyed seeing the positive effects on those who visit the center. “They are benefiting their health in a variety of ways by staying active through our programs, both mentally and physically. They also benefit by having a nutritious meal with other people. Not only are they probably eating more than they would at home on their own but maybe eating more because they are amongst others while they eat.” She continues to fill up the social and educational calendar each month looking for people to teach crafts, photography, etc. or make a presentation on a topic of interest.
The unknown can be intimidating. For those interested in seeing what Senior Neighbors has to offer but are nervous about a new social situation Terra suggests coming on a day in the middle of the week when the center isn’t filled to capacity. Stopping by shortly after opening will allow a tour and opportunity to ask questions in a quieter setting. Jumping right in on a busy day is also encouraged.
Lend a Helping Hand
As a non-profit Senior Neighbors uses donations to help provide services. Page 12 of the Senior Neighbors Newsletter provides information about the Lowell location. A list of items needed for donation including paper towel, regular and decaf coffee, bingo prizes, Meijer and Dollar Tree gift cards, and word search puzzles. Financial support is also welcomed.
A cookbook is being sold for $10 as a fundraiser as well. There are less than 50 left of the original 300. Stop by Springrove Variety, Heidi’s, or Ace Hardware to see if they have any left. Soon t-shirts will also be available for sale as a way to raise money for the center.
One of the challenges faced by the Lowell Senior Center is growth. While the number of seniors who participate in lunch and other offerings increases the amount of space in their current location does not. With close to 50 people on some Mondays and Fridays it’s hard to find an open spot. A move to a bigger location has been considered. If a large enough location for the right price becomes available in Lowell there could be an effort to relocate.
The Senior Neighbors location in Lowell is open from 8:30-2 Monday through Friday, with lunch served each day at noon. They are located at 314 S. Hudson.