At age 102, Ella Carver kicked up her feet in a skipping dance on her way into the Central Orange Senior Center’s five-year anniversary celebration.
With sparkling cider, birthday cake, and even a can-can line, the Senior Center marked its anniversary Friday, in a standing-room only ceremony in The Meadowlands complex. Staff pulled in extra chairs, and still visitors lined the halls outside the door to hear the speakers.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Leo Allison, former president of the Friends of the Central Orange Senior Center. “That dream, of course, was to have a facility where seniors could come in, have a cup of coffee, play a few games, visit with friends, and of course have a nice meal.”
Since it opened in January 2009, the center has offered wellness workshops, counseling, trips, lunches, classes in everything from leatherwork to tap-dancing, volunteer opportunities, and other educational programs. Membership is free, though some specific programs require a fee.
The Senior Center also fosters a strong sense of community, says Gary Kiefer, 73, of Efland. When Kiefer’s wife died several years ago, he turned to the senior center community.
“This is my home base,” he said. “When your spouse goes, everyone rushes in – but that lasts a week. But then it’s after that, that you really need support.”
Kiefer, a retired electrical engineer, said he especially seeks out the badminton games and the potlucks.
“I’m on a diet – I only eat potluck food,” he said, laughing.
He explained that the potluck-style camaraderie had drawn him and his wife to the center in the first place.
“That was one of the things we were looking food – not a resort community, not a retirement community, but a real community,” Kiefer said.
The Prime Time Players capped off the Senior Center’s anniversary party with “Wally’s Wartime Radio Hit Parade,” an extravaganza of 21 songs, in live-radio format.
Jane Underhill directed the cast, with members from both Central Orange and Chapel Hill’s Robert and Pearl Seymour Center. The audience rose in a standing ovation when tap dancers, sporting top hats sequined with stars and stripes, flung up their legs in a can-can line.
In addition to coordinating entertainment and activities, the Senior Center also supports members struggling with anything from the burden of care-giving to physical ailments, said Janice Tyler, Director of the Orange County Department on Aging.
“We’re here to help you not just with the recreation and leisure and fun stuff; we’re here to help you with the hard stuff, too,” she said.
Workshops target specific needs, from chronic diseases, to income-tax preparation.
Visitors also receive a discounted, sliding-scale membership to the adjacent Triangle SportsPlex once they complete a physical assessment at the Senior Center. Tyler said 300 SportsPlex members have signed up through the Senior Center’s program.
“This has been a real blessing … that we have a senior center right next door, and it encourages people to exercise and do things,” said Betty Watts, 70, of Hillsborough.
The Central Orange Senior Center now serves all of northern Orange County, after smaller centers were consolidated. Allison explained that dozens of residents campaigned for the funds for the new center.
“The day that the center opened, I watched people coming through the door, and the look on their faces, it just meant so much,” said Terry Colville, program and operations manager at the Orange County Department on Aging. “People would say, ‘I just didn’t know that we could have this here – this is beautiful.’”