By Aimee Bingham Osinski email@example.com
As we age, we lose our connections. School is the first place we develop friendships. When we finish school, it’s usually in our careers. If we stay home raising the kids, we meet friends at school functions and in our childrens’ activities. But what about when those phases end? When our kids are grown with careers and children of their own, when we’ve retired from our jobs and maybe we start losing those old friends we’ve had forever? How do we make human connections? Study after study shows these connections mean the difference between life and death, between living independently and living in long term care, and between health and illness. Friendship is the lifeblood that keeps us going.
If you’re a senior in the Dexter area, you have the Dexter Senior Center there to welcome you with open arms. The day I visited was bustling with activity. I walked in as the chair yoga class, filled to capacity, was finishing. After the class ended, some attendees stayed after to chat for a bit, enjoying their time together. I made my way to the front of the room where I was greeted by a table full of women. They had different reasons for attending on that particular day.
I sat down at the circular table as the women chatted. I was reminded of school lunch in high school, sitting next to friends talking about our different interests. But instead of cute boys, the conversation revolved around what events were happening in town, what events they were joining at the Senior Center and the projects on which they were volunteering. . Kathryn Bradbury had a white apron on because she worked that day, as she does nearly everyday. Kathryn was the The Dexter Senior Center volunteer of the year. She was also the Catholic Social Services volunteer of the year with the most hours volunteered in Washtenaw County. When I ask her how many, she shrugged her shoulders and said casually, “584, something like that.” Giving back is something of a theme at The Senior Center. The people utilizing services all seem to give back through volunteerism.
The ladies at the table explain to me the different programs and events they enjoy. They tell me about needle arts, greeting card workshop, yoga classes, card games and board games they enjoy, but each one agrees, the best part of The Dexter Senior Center is the socializing. They explain that they’re alone, now. No need to elaborate, I understand, they’ve lost their spouses. The one that was meant to stay by their side, is now gone. I try to imagine what that must feel like. Kids are meant to grow up and leave us, but our spouses are supposed to be forever. What happens when the one you’re supposed to spend your life with passes away? For many, it’s solitude and loneliness. And that solitude turns into a decline in health.
As we chat about the Christmas Bizarre the needle arts group donates their work to, I notice the room filling for people ready for lunch. There’s something unique about this Senior Center: a large group of men. They come nearly every day for lunch. Kenneth Vanderpool both volunteers for and utilizes the center. He explains that it provides him the chance to get out and talk to people, he gets a good meal, and keeps up to date on information. Frank Burke tells me he’s pretty new to the Senior Center. He adds that he likes it and it gives him a break, “because I’m alone now.” I keep hearing that phrase and seeing the same slight wince of pain. So to watch the lunch unfold makes me smile. But first I meet Coyne Holiday, a tall 90 year-old who does not at all seem 90. He holds court at his table and it is clear he’s well loved. He tells me he was a recipient of Meals on Wheels but stopped needing it. Once it was cancelled, Wendy Smith, the director of The Dexter Senior Center called and invited him to the congregate lunch program. He’s been coming ever since. He says, “The food is lovely and I come mostly to talk to people and have fun.”
I get up because the tables are filling and I observe the lunch from a distance. I watch quietly and learn about the congregate lunch program. A few years ago it served 3-4 people a day. On the day I visit there are 24. There’s fresh fruit, and a nutritious spread. It’s by donation so those on a fixed income can at least get one nutritious meal, even if they are short on funds. The entire room sings happy birthday to Kathryn, the award winning volunteer, and then Coyne says grace. I’m enjoying myself so much, I wonder if I can be an honorary member. Suddenly there’s an uproar towards the front. A man who is a guest of a member is laughing so hard he’s wiping tears from his eyes.. Coyne has told a joke that has the whole table gasping in laughter. I watch as smiles spread around the room to those of us who didn’t hear the joke. The happiness is contagious.
They say laughter is the best medicine. Friendship, laughter, and nutritious food are certainly keeping the members of The Dexter Senior Center healthy and young at heart. If you know a senior who might benefit, call (734) 426-7737 to set up a visit.
Top two photos: members of the needle craft group display projects that will be sold at The Christmas Bizarre Bottom photo, seniors enjoying lunch and smiles.