If you were at all tuned into Raleigh back on February 29, 2012, you know it marked more than a four-year calendar leap and the final hours of an extended Black History Month.
We know it as the day Southeast Raleigh — and Midtown— lost the Hargett Street YWCA. It was the day an institution of community legacy and accomplishment was padlocked amid a financial collapse that disrupted civic life for hundreds of children, families and senior citizens.
"There was a whole lot of [heartbreak] when they closed the Y," said Josephine Jeter, 91, one of the location’s mainstays. "There wasn't a dry eye around."
Still, it's a new day for Jeter and as many as 50 senior citizens who were isolated and, well, bored by the Ys closure. Since October 2012, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. every Monday through Friday, they've slowly come back together at The Gathering Place, a church also known as Total Deliverance Resurrection Ministries. The church is snugly tucked into the Walnut Creek subdivision off Sunnybrook Road.
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And they’re doing more than socializing. Recently granted status as the only Meals on Wheels nutrition site in Southeast Raleigh, The Gathering Place is giving senior citizens what they need. “Mind, body and spirit – all of us,” said Veronica Davis.
“We’re not just sitting old people,” said Yvonne Stanback, 66. “We have a variety of things we do. Everybody has a talent, and they share it with all of us.”
On May 28, the group added its ranks to the more than 100,000 people nationwide who participated in the 21st annual National Senior Health & Fitness Day. At The
Gathering Place, there was yoga, Chair 2 Music Move – all before participants danced the Electric Slide, ate nutritious snacks, and got health screenings and other health tips.
Participating seniors, ages 62 to 93, have weekly yoga and exercise classes and walking challenges. They delve into arts and crafts and attend discussions ranging from inspirational and informational to entertaining and educational. They’ve even hosted a Senior Prom, a Crowns of Glory hat fashion show and connected through Book Club discussions. And, when Big Lots had a big ol’sale shortly after their computer class, the members expanded the number of electronic tablets among them from about four to 15.
“I come here because of the love we share between us,” said Bernice Wilkins, 87. “I live alone, so this gives me something to do, and I feel like everybody here is my friend.”
It's all thanks to Eloise Best, the Y's former Program Manager for Older Adults. She left the Y months before it closed. In October 2012, Best partnered with former Y co-workers Beatrice Terry and Olivia Mudd, who’d moved into new jobs. Best had not found a job, so she agreed to volunteer at The Gathering Place, Mudd’s church.
They answered familiar calls for months from community members in search of options for social interaction.
“It’s so rewarding to us,” said Best, employed since October as the Meals on Wheels site manager.
Pauline Dolby, 92, helped pave the way of resilience and creative determination that helped the program redevelop. She helped get the Hargett Street Y built, going door-to-door for donations and memberships.
“When it closed, I felt like a member of the family had passed,” she said. “But it is great to have this kind of program back.”
What perseverance has recovered, community and private support has not, said Esther Allen, 75.
Before she'd elaborate, though, Allen explained that soon after the Y's demise, she got "very sick," and now credits recovery to the space she has to get out, move, mingle, break bread, think, explore and create.
"This really is the healing place," she said. "I have made a 110 percent recovery, coming back with my friends."
Its just sad more people are blocked from coming because they can’t find transportation or spare the $20 monthly fee, which is donated to the church for being a good neighbor and opening its doors.
The Y was free and close enough that transportation wasn’t a problem.
“With $80 in gas, that’s a hundred dollars,” said Davis, whose sister, Geraldine Darden, is part of the group, too. “I just sacrifice something else because I dont know what I would do if it was not for The Gathering Place.”