“I come for companionship, said Urbana resident Anita Phillips. “I’ve met some wonderful friends. We have a good time. It’s fun.”
Phillips spent Tuesday afternoon socializing with other seniors at the Urbana Champaign County Senior Center, located at the corner of South Walnut and Thompson streets. The center, now in its 45th year, is going stronger than ever after voters approved an increased tax levy.
Voters approved an additional 0. 2-mills to its tax levy in November 2015, increasing the total levy to 0.4 mills. The levy brings in approximately $325,000 each year, center Executive Director Stacy Barnhart said.
The additional dollars have allowed the center to expand its services and offer more activities for members, despite funding cuts from other sources.
The center strives to provide education, socialization and recreation, Barnhart said.
Before the additional levy funding, the center provided a number of programs and activities, which included chair volleyball, chair aerobics, chair caning, tap dancing and day trips around the county, Barnhart said. The center also held a mobile pantry twice a month in partnership with Second Harvest Foodbanks and with funding from the Champaign County Memorial Foundation. CT Communications provided busing for seniors to and from the center for the weekly lunch.
One of the big programs the center provides is a chore program for home-bound seniors. Individuals visit seniors’ homes and do light housecleaning.
With the new funding, the center has expanded the hours of the chore program and added activities such as light aerobics, line dancing and craft classes. The center also added a book club and more trips, including extended-day trips, Barnhart said. Members also attend parades around the county.
“They love it. Anything that gets them out in the community, they love it,” Barnhart said.
Trips, fashion shows, dancing
Trips include picnics to nearby parks like Kiser Lake in the spring and fall. Barnhart said those picnics are popular among members.
The center began holding fashion shows with seniors as models. And, programming increased, with more educational information and legal assistance.
Phillips said she enjoys the line dancing, movie days and trips the most.
Springfield resident Jean Sutton said she visits the senior center several times a week for the programs.
“These people do a fabulous job,” she said. “They plan great trips. It’s just a joy to be here.”
Urbana resident Midge West joined after her husband died in May.
“This place is like my extended family,” she said. “They go out of their way to make you feel a part of it.”
Urbana resident Dixie Martin has been going to the center for several years and enjoys the trips and the socialization the most.
“I love the activities here,” she said.
The center’s membership has grown, and so has its needs. Barnhart said the center has grown about 20 percent, with membership at 560 members. The busiest days are Tuesdays with the weekly meal. Seventy-five to 85 seniors enjoy the meal and spend time with friends.
“People come here for the meal, but it’s more about socialization with friends,” she said.
As the center continues to grow, it faces difficulties. The United Way recently cut its funding to the center by $10,000, choosing to provide those funds to other agencies in need. The impact was not as severe as it could have been, Barnhart said, because the levy was approved by county voters. If the levy had not passed, the cut would have impacted the chore program the most, she said.
The additional levy funding will help the center purchase a new bus, mostly used for the day trips. Barnhart said she hopes to expand the kitchen and pantry and eventually upgrade the parking lot to provide more parking spaces.
If the center continues to grow, Barnhart said, the board may need to look into a bigger location.
“We are very appreciative (of the levy approval). We were fortunate enough to get that levy passed. Just how many seniors daily it touches … the center’s never been this big,” Barnhart said. “These seniors come in here for fun, just some plain and simple fun. And we try to do whatever we can to make it as fun as it can be.”
Senior center hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Member dues are $20 a year, though Barnhart said the center can work with seniors who can’t afford the full dues.
For more information call 937-653-6088 or visit www.uccseniorcenter.com.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.