Center offers seniors way stay active, beat isolation

For a recently widowed man, a senior center in Greenwood has helped him get through the grieving process by providing a way to connect with his peers and serve the community.

When Don Worthington’s wife, Barbara, passed away after five decades of marriage, the transition to living by himself was incredibly difficult.

“I was hardly eating anything,” he said.

Worthington, who lives on the southside, would go out to grab a breakfast sandwich in the morning, and then sometimes get fast food again late in the evening. A friend brought him to The Social of Greenwood for the first time about a year ago, hoping to at least get him eating steady, regular meals. The senior center, located at 550 Polk St., offers a free lunch Monday through Friday for a suggested donation of $3.

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Worthington began by coming for the meals, but stayed because of the connections he made with others at the senior center.

“Being around people lightens the load,” he said.

Membership at The Social has risen from 400 in 2010 to more than 1,000 in 2017. With two full-time staff members and an annual budget of $283,000, The Social provides a place for seniors to meet with their peers, eat meals, exercise, take classes and play games. Annual membership is $15 for Greenwood residents and $18 for others.

Most people think of senior centers as a place people go to play cards and Bingo, but these places mean much more than that, said Andrea Sutherland, the executive director of The Social.

Isolation is the biggest challenge seniors face, especially for ones that have lost their spouse and may be living alone without any family members nearby, she said. Seniors centers provide a place where members can interact with people of their generation and gain a sense of community that they may not get elsewhere, Sutherland said.

Ruth Breeden joined The Social three years ago along with her husband, Richard, as a way to find people to socialize with, Breeden said.

When her husband passed away, Breeden began volunteering at The Social as a way to pass the time, and now works as a receptionist three days a week.

“Suddenly being alone was a strange experience for me,” she said.

Breeden often takes part in monthly day trips offered by the senior center, which gives her an opportunity to visit places such as covered bridge festivals around the state.

Like Breeden, Worthington now volunteers at The Social. He helps manage the food bank, as well as performing various chores. Worthington joked that his 25 years in the military led him to be an expert at mopping.

Keeping up with rapid growth has been a challenge for the Social the past seven years. With how large their membership has become, they’ve been required to host some of their main fundraisers, such as Purse Bingo or the upcoming Sparklers & Spurs event at locations away from their 7,000-square-foot office at 550 Polk St., Sutherland said.

An ever-growing collection of exercise programs, led by an increasing popular Rock Steady Boxing program, which aims to help participants in the fight against Parkinson’s disease, has also resulted in the need for classes to be hosted at off-site locations, she said. Other classes offered at The Social range from woodcarving and crafts to yoga and dancing lessons. Some classes are offered for free to members, while others are supported by fees, which primarily go toward the cost of bringing in certified instructors, Sutherland said.

She’d like to expand the classes offered at the Social, to include areas such as technology and computer use. With the prevalence of scams and viruses over the internet, it is important for seniors to be both comfortable and confident with using technology, Sutherland said.

But before any new classes can be added, the senior center is first going to need to go through a remodel or expansion, she said.

To keep up with the growing membership, which could easily surpass 1,500 in the next five years, The Social is applying for grants to fund design and construction costs for a renovation or expansion to the current facility, Sutherland said.

The Social has applied for a $20,000 Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs grant, which will allow them to hire Springpoint Architects to analyze the current building and meet with members and staff to come up with  proposals for how to better use the space, Sutherland said.

Once that six-month process is complete, the next step will be to apply for another $500,000 grant from the state to cover the costs of renovations and construction. To get this grant, The Social would need to provide an additional $55,000 in matching funds, she said.

How much The Social can expand is not yet known. The senior center does have some room on at the back of the building, but the biggest step to free up space will be to re-arrange the interior of the building to make it more efficient, Sutherland said.

More room would mean that The Social could expand its food pantry, which serves 600 families a month, host larger events onsite, rather than renting other facilities, and having more space to allow its boxing and exercise programs to grow, she said.

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Here’s a closer look at The Social of Greenwood

1,000: Members

600: Families served each month through The Social’s food pantry

$283,000: 2017 operating budget

2: Full-time employees

50: Volunteers each year at The Social

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The Social of Greenwood serves as a places for senior to gather and meet with their peers.

The United Way of Johnson County funds 18 local nonprofit agencies, including The Social, and operates eight internal programs. United Way and the agencies it helps support helped 37,000 Johnson County residents last year.

If you want to donate or begin a giving campaign at your employer or organization, contact the United Way of Johnson County.

Address: 594 Ironwood Drive, Franklin

Phone: 317-736-7840