June marks a milestone for the North Olmsted Senior Center. Forty years ago, on June 6, 1980, the Senior Citizens Multi-Service Center building was formally dedicated.
More than 250 people, most senior residents, attended the 1980 dedication ceremony. Program speakers and guests included city staff and administrators, as well as local, county and state officials. A large banner welcomed attendees and the philosophy of the new center was prominently displayed and published in the event program.
The 6,600-square-foot complex, located in North Olmsted Park was designed by Lipaj-Tomsik Architects as an addition to the Community Cabin. The project was funded by four years of federal Community Development Block Grant allocations. Federal funds from the Older Americans Act paid for the furnishings. The Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging was instrumental in assisting the city in applying for funding as well as providing the grant for kitchen and audio-visual aids for the center.
In his dedication remarks, former North Olmsted Mayor Robert Swietyniowski described the center as a source of new opportunities for senior citizens and a place to share their vast resources and skills. He thanked City Council and expressed appreciation to Don Copeland, director of the Department of Human Resources, who spearheaded the creation of the center, and Estella King, director of the senior center, and their staffs whose efforts made the center a reality.
The idea to create a center for seniors was conceived in 1975-1976. Construction and dedication of the Senior Citizens Multi-Service Center culminated a five-year goal of the city’s Department of Human Resources, whose staff provided social services, coordination of social services and programming for city residents.
Before construction of the center was complete, programming began in April, hosted at temporary locations including a donated storefront at Great Northern Shopping Center, with classes and activities held at various city buildings, churches and schools.
Today, the center is known as the North Olmsted Senior Center. Its administrator and staff continue the dedicated work and community service that began more than four decades ago.
“The Senior Center is one of our city’s gems,” said North Olmsted Mayor Kevin Kennedy. “It is a vital asset that enhances the lives of our city’s seniors as well as those from neighboring communities. It positively impacts their health and well-being and serves as a gathering space for social connections.”
Last year, the average monthly activity attendance, not including the congregate meal program, was 1,082. A total of 482 seniors visited the center and checked in for 18,580 events, including hot lunch.
“Our forerunners set the foundation for this community resource 40 years ago,” said Senior Center Administrator Jackie Chavez-Anderson. “We’ve taken their passion and caring for others and keep evolving what they started. It’s a tribute to them and their foresight.”
Many of the early programs and activities continue today. These include art, bingo, book club, crafts, cards, movies and trips. Some of the most popular activities are playing bingo, bridge, pinochle and Mexican train dominoes; exercising with Geri-fit; taking casino trips; and attending Passport Travel Programs where guest speakers present talks on their travels.
Staff has developed new programs to adapt to current needs. A computer lab was added to keep seniors up-to-speed on technology and provide computer, smartphone and tablet training. An oversized interactive smart board was installed in the activity room for presentations. To keep seniors engaged and active, chair yoga, chair volleyball, and summer reading and walking programs were created. As programming has expanded, some activities and events have moved into the Community Cabin to accommodate larger groups.
Since its 1980 opening, several improvements and renovations have been made to the building. In 2010, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility updates were made at both the Senior Center and Community Cabin. A new patio was installed, which was dedicated Sept. 18, 2014. This upgrade offers an inviting outdoor space with a garden and scenic park views where senior programming is hosted. It also serves as an amenity that the community and park visitors can enjoy.
In response to a state-mandated building closure of all senior centers during the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic, staff altered their operations, outreach efforts, programming and communications to adhere to safety guidelines in order to continue to meet the needs of the senior population. With onsite visits and direct contact restricted, the nutrition program shifted to a meal delivery program, increasing to fit growing demand. Staff created and curated virtual programming options and community resources shared via a bi-monthly email newsletter to ensure seniors remained connected to critical social services and support systems.
“The Senior Center is standing the test of time,” said Chavez-Anderson. “We strive to be good stewards of this facility and to realize our predecessors’ vision by sustaining and expanding on what they built.”