Home Away From Home
Jeffersontown Senior Citizens Center Is a Favorite Gathering Space For Local Elders
Writer: Shannon Siders
On a recent Friday morning, the Jeffersontown Senior Citizens Center was buzzing with excitement. The breakfast crew was clearing out to participate in activities, and the fun had just begun.
Staff said the center is often mistaken for a residential facility, but is actually a daytime center for social adults 55 years of age and older. Located at 10631 Watterson Trail, near the Jeffersontown Library, the center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
About 750 seniors are members of the center, with around 200 visiting the center each day. Members pay a nominal yearly fee that provides them access to the center during operating hours and the opportunity to partake in other fun events.
“Seniors need a place to go to socialize with their peers and to have a good time, so they are not just sitting at home in a chair watching television all day,” says Annette Norris, who became director of the center in 2017 after joining the staff in 2008. “The center helps keep their minds sharp and their bodies healthy.”
A typical day at the center starts with breakfast provided by donations through Kentucky Harvest, as well as area grocers and restaurants.
“I love walking in the cafeteria in the morning, it’s like the breakfast club in there,” says Dawn Rountree, special events coordinator and guest liaison. “They’re the most inspiring group of seniors you’ll ever meet, and they’re just having the best time in there. They’re a great bunch of people and seeing them starts my day off right.”
Depending on the day, various activities are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Each day offers an exercise option including aerobics, chair yoga, Tai Chi and Zumba. Other organized activities include bunco, pinochle, needle-crafts, mahjong, euchre, bingo and more.
Members can also take advantage of the various game and activity rooms in the center, and many come by to use the treadmills and gym equipment in the exercise rooms.
The center also serves lunch for just $4 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“The lunch crowds are getting bigger and bigger,” Rountree says. “Our members really like the lunches.”
Lunch includes an entree, bread, side, dessert and drink, and reservations are required in advance to make sure enough is prepared.
The center also hosts parties around special events like the Kentucky Derby and holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“We hosted a Derby Eve Bash for the first time this year,” Norris says. “The members were so thrilled. Many of them said they hadn’t been to a Derby party in years.”
Each party includes door prizes, entertainment and lots of food.
“So many of our members’ children live out of state, and they may not be able to travel for one reason or another,” Norris adds. “They may not have a holiday meal, so we are happy to offer them one.”
Day trips and overnight trips are another big draw for members.
Ruth Frederick, the first director of the senior center, chaperones a group to Horseshoe Southern Indiana Casino
“The casino trip is very popular,” said Norris. “I think some enjoy the buffet more than the gambling, but a lot of them like playing the slot machines.”
Volunteer travel coordinator Jean Coomes plans the overnight trips and upcoming offerings include the Canadian Islands, Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, New Orleans and Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The group also takes an annual trip to Myrtle Beach.
“The trips are extremely popular, and Jean tries to plan some great new places to visit each year,” Norris says.
Typically the cost of the trips include all travel fees, some meals and most ticket fees for shows or other entertainment.
It’s obvious how much the staff and volunteers care for the members of the center, and the love and appreciation is returned by the members themselves. The center members overwhelmingly said their lives would be “boring” at best without the center, but many stated the value went much deeper than that.
Bob McCauley, a Jeffersontown resident and 20-year member of the center whose wife Pat volunteers in the kitchen, says, “My life would be terrible without the center, and I think everyone here has the same sentiment.”
“Older people need people to talk to,” he adds. “You don’t want to sit at home and not talk to anybody.”
McCauley noted his involvement in the center allows him to learn something new each day, referencing his friends’ Word of the Day activity.
Willie Henry of Fern Creek joined the center a little over a year ago after some of his friends encouraged him to do so.
“I like going upstairs to the gym, which I find less intimidating than a regular gym,” Henry says. “There’s a lot of interesting people here, and I like talking to them. The staff is so great, and everyone here is very friendly and open.”
Angela Johnson first came to the center in March 2017 to take advantage of the AARP Tax-Aide program. The center allows non-members to come in for tax prep and take advantage of the center’s amenities for the day.
“I was so impressed with the offerings here,” Johnson says. “I saw all of the opportunities to make myself better, and I felt comfortable here.”
After some encouragement from her daughter, Johnson joined the center just a few weeks later and has been coming back nearly every day since.
“I’ve met some wonderful people here who have helped me through difficult times,” says Johnson, a retired school principal. “I found out I’m not the only one with these maladies of old age, and get a lot of great advice and suggestions.”
Although she didn’t know any of the members when she joined, Johnson quickly formed friendships and created a second family.
“The staff is just outstanding,” Johnson says. “I feel like this is my home away from home.”
Her daughter also appreciates the center.
“My daughter is so appreciative of this place, because she doesn’t have to worry about me,” Johnson says.
One of Johnson’s friends at the center is Dorothy Richardson, a Jeffersontown resident and volunteer bingo caller.
Richardson, who joined the center before it moved to its current location in 1997, enjoys the friendliness of the other members and the employees.
“My life would be boring without the senior center,” Richardson says. “I look forward to talking to everybody everyday. I like when you’re missed and people ask where you are. When you’re sick, people send you get well cards.”
While enjoying lunch with her friends, Richardson says that as a member she was, “joyful inside and not depressed” because she had people to interact with.
Many of the members stay in touch throughout the day and on the weekends, by talking on the phone, going to dinner or partaking in other activities.
Norris noted that doctors will often recommend the center to patients who are experiencing depression or loneliness, especially after the loss of a spouse, as well as to patients who have finished physical therapy to use the exercise equipment to aid further rehab.
Along with outside volunteers, some of the members volunteer their own time to assist with programming, helping the center’s food service coordinator Danita Hayes, and other center needs.
“I love the volunteers, they have taught me a lot and given me a great perspective on how much they give of themselves,” says Operations Manager Julie Geurin. “I look at volunteering completely different now.”
The center also has many volunteer drivers who assist facility driver George Brangers in picking up donations and transporting members to and from area attractions.
Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf has been a large supporter of the center and has aided in its growth.
“Mayor Dieruf has been instrumental in making improvements to our building, which has made it a more inviting atmosphere,” Norris says. “Our employees and members really appreciate all he has done.”
With Dieruf’s support, the center underwent renovations to the restrooms, dining room and ballroom. He even picked out the blinds for the ballroom and added three large-screen televisions that are used for video aerobics, during the parties and more.
The center has been in talks to expand to evening hours at some point but nothing has been finalized yet.
“People are working at an older age now, not necessarily by choice but by need,” Norris says. “They can’t come in during the day, so we’ve talked about having some events and classes in the evening.”
With members ranging in age from 55 to 98, the center offers a diverse group of people with various backgrounds and interests. There’s truly something for everyone.
“We’re a hidden treasure, many people in the community don’t know about us,” says Norris, who also noted the importance of spending time with elderly family members.
“Listen to their stories, they have so many life experiences to talk about,” she says. “Some good and some bad, but their experiences may help us in the choices we make in our own lives. What we learn from their shared wisdom may very well be the key to a brighter future for all of us.”
For more information on the Jeffersontown Senior Citizens Center, call 502-267-9112 or visit them at 10631 Watterson Trail, near the Jeffersontown Library.