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Danville senior center seeing uptick in activity

If it seems there are more vehicles from A Gathering Place traveling the roads and parked at pharmacies, grocery stores and doctors’ offices around Boyle County it’s because more and more senior citizens are taking advantage of free transportation and all of the services now provided by the center.

The last of September marked the end of the first quarter for A Gathering Place Senior Activities Center, which was three months full of changes and growth for the center, said executive director Ben Guerrant.

First, the center changed its name from The Danville-Boyle County Senior Citizens Center to A Gathering Place Senior Activities Center. “This was to send a clear message to the community about who exactly we are. Often times, I think senior citizens centers get portrayed … as just a place to sit and get parked and do nothing, and that’s not the case; we truly are an activity center.”

A Gathering Place was also able to purchase two new wheelchair buses equipped with lifts and a mini van due to receiving federal Title III funding, Guerrant said. This adds more travel options for Boyle County’s senior citizens who need transportation to their doctor appointments and to pick up their medicines.

“The sheer number of trips that we have given to support seniors for activities of daily living … are staggering,” Guerrant said. “So far this quarter, we’ve provided 2,582 rides … You see them (the buses or vans) all the time because we’ve given 2,582 rides.”

He said the service is free; the center only asks that senior citizens call at least 24 hours in advance so schedules can be made to fit everyone’s needs.

“We gladly accept donations,” though, Guerrant said. Some people are able to give a little money but many cannot afford to donate. “And that’s OK. That’s why we are here. To be of service to the seniors of this county.”

Photo by Robin Hart/robin.hart@amnews.com
A Gathering Place Senior Activities Center has recently added more vehicles to help transport local senior citizens to places they need go, as well as to the center.

The Gathering Place has also taken over the responsibility of home delivery of meals and providing meals at the center for its seniors, Guerrant said. A Gathering Place “has made it a priority to deliver five meals a week. That’s a big undertaking,” Guerrant said. The center served 1,134 meals on site and delivered 3,224 meals to senior citizens at their homes.

The only way their home delivery program is so successful is because of the center’s “tremendous volunteer base,” Guerrant said. “That has been absolutely imperative to our success thus far in our home delivery program. Because of that, the overall quality of the program has improved.”

Guerrant said federal funding has also opened up more opportunities to apply for and receive other grants for specific activity programs. For example, the center is now able to offer Tai Chi classes and has been sponsoring chronic disease self-management classes.

“It’s an instructor-led course,” Guerrant explained, where seniors can meet and discuss any chronic health issues that plague them, such as diabetes, depression and early onset dementia.

As the senior population grows, the center’s budget won’t be able to cover every need. “That’s where we have to be creative. And we have to be good stewards of the public dollar … That’s why we have a volunteer base … The trick is trying to figure out how to operate under the same budget constraints.” And one way to do that is to utilize volunteers. During the past quarter, A Gathering Place operated with the help of 278 volunteer hours.

He said the center also continues to partner with other organizations in ways that are mutually beneficial. This summer’s garden, planted by clients from the outpatient treatment program Shepherd’s House was just one example.

Another partnership is with Goodwill Industries Inc. A couple of weeks ago, during National Employ Older Workers Week, Guerrant accepted a certificate of outstanding recognition for dedication and being a continuing partner and local supporter of the district’s Goodwill Industries, which serves 54 counties.

Guerrant said when he needs an employee, Goodwill can find someone through its Senior Older Worker Program to fill the spot temporarily. Goodwill pays the worker’s salary while they learn new job skills at A Gathering Place.

Guerrant said he has already hired two employees through the program.

Today’s senior citizens are much different than they were decades ago, Guerrant said. “Your senior citizens now are looking to be more active. Our response to that is to continue to provide more and more activities. And the more or diverse activities that we are able to offer, the more we’ll see our numbers continue to rise.”

“People can sit at home and do nothing. We want them to come here and be involved and engaged and look forward to coming and having a variety of activities to keep the mind and body going … We haven’t outgrown the building yet. That would be a problem that I would welcome. That would mean we’re doing the right thing for the seniors.”