By Aimee Bingham Osinski email@example.com
“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors,” Tia Walker
After my wonderful visit with Joanne Westman at the Dexter Senior Center, I wanted to learn more about their needs, funding, and community support. Something Joanne said during our meeting stuck with me. She said, “What we do with fifty thousand dollars is a pure miracle.” I wanted to see that miracle in action, so I asked Joanne if I could visit while seniors were using the services.
I visited the Senior Center last Wednesday close to the start of the lunch program. I expected it to be busy, while different programs juggled use of limited space. My expectations were correct, but what I didn’t expect was how much the visit would touch my heart. To witness a population of society that often languishes and fades in silence, find a place to thrive, is really a beautiful thing. The members of the Dexter Senior Center are doing just that.
I arrived to watch an at capacity chair yoga class finish, while the center’s congregate lunch program started. The chair yoga class was impressive. People of varying levels of mobility and health, were working hard. These were people unwilling to fade gently into the night. They were stretching their spine, opening their lungs, and helping make the toll of years a little easier on their bodies. In return, they receive natural pain relief, improved bone density, improved strength and balance, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar and overall better health. It wasn’t easy for them, I could tell by the focus and determination on their faces. But they were invested in improving their quality of life, a commitment to health rare at any age but particularly at an age when it would be easy to throw in the towel.
Just on the other side of a folding room divider, people were starting to trickle in for lunch. The congregate lunch program used to have two to three people per day. Wednesday there were twenty four people registered. The Director of the Senior Center, Wendy Smith, wanted to remain in the background and allow the seniors using the facility to shine. As much as I would like to honor her wishes, I have to acknowledge the magic she brings. She loves her seniors. She loves them maybe like a dedicated teacher loves students. As I walked around asking people questions, she’d pop over and tell me details only someone completely invested would know. As I observed the needle work group she pointed out that one of the women sheers her own sheep, spins her own wool, dyes it and knits with it. She can spell their names, she knows when their spouses passed, and she knows what their kids do for a living. My job is to observe, and I watched out of the corner of my eye as a woman mentioned she was cold and Wendy grabbed her own fleece from her office and wrapped it around the woman’s shoulders. If I neglected to point out the care and concern the seniors receive from Wendy, I’d be neglecting to share a big part of why the Senior Center is so important in their lives. My parents are both over 70. I feel bad that I am often too busy working and raising my children to be there for them like I want. Knowing they had someone like Wendy in their lives would be such a comfort.
As I wandered around introducing myself to people and asking questions about The Dexter Senior Center, I heard a major theme emerge. In one way or another, they all said they enjoyed the programs but what the senior center really does is help stave off loneliness. As the infectiously cheerful Director of the Friends in Harmony Choir, Janet Potter explained, “My husband passed away and I moved to be with family. I didn’t know a soul. The Dexter Senior Center saved my life.”
Nobody wants to be lonely, but feeling isolated is a major risk factor for seniors. Social isolation leads to increased mortality, poor physical and mental health, increased cognitive decline and risk of dementia, increased risk of long term illness, and increased risk of need for long term care, according to author Sarah Stevenson. We care for seniors because they raised us, they cared for us, they gave us what they had to give and they deserve care. But from a practical standpoint, according to Genworth, the cost of long term care in Michigan was between $4000 and $9000 per month in 2018. That means the programs offered at the Dexter Senior Center are saving taxpayers and families huge sums of money. If one senior avoids long term care for one year, the Dexter Senior Center has paid for itself.
Joanne Westman called the Dexter Senior Center and what it does with the funds it has a miracle. I wanted to really look at the numbers to see for myself. According to the Dexter Senior Center, it’s budge for 2017-2018 was $50,006. The city of Dexter, from which 117 members reside, provided the Senior Center with $1000. Webster Township, from which 55 members reside provided the Senior Center with $8,100. Dexter Township, from which 36 members reside, provided the Senior Center with $3,000. Scio Township, from which 59 members reside provided the Senior Center with 0 and Lima township, from which 16 members reside provided the Senior Center with 0. This support accounted for 18% of the budget. 31% of the budget was from fundraising, 16% came from sponsorship, 15% donations, 10% from dues, and 10% from rentals. When compared to other Senior Centers in the area, it was a little shocking. Milan, for example, receives 30% of its funds from the city, 19% from Washtenaw county and 19% from Monroe County and are working with an over $300,000.00 budget.
The fact that the Dexter Senior Center provided 20 core activities, not including meals with 13,000 participants last year alone, is a miracle. Add to that the 8089 meals served to homebound clients and 4561 meals served to members of the Dexter Senior Center. Joanne was not exaggerating
If you’re interested in volunteering for the Dexter Senior Center, Wendy Smith said they are in constant need of Meals on Wheels drivers, but will take any sort of help you can offer. They are always looking for donations and financial support as well. If you know a senior who is in need of companionship and a warm welcoming environment, you can find information online at www.dexterseniors.org or you can call (734) 426-7737. ,
The next article in the series will spotlight the wonderful seniors that make the Dexter Senior Center such a fun place to be.