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Prairie Township Senior Center has grown
Nearly five years ago, a small group banded together and expressed interest to the Prairie Township trustees about forming a senior center.
Together with the trustees, the group found a home in the Lincoln Village Plaza on West Broad Street with the purpose of providing an entertainment location for members 50 and older in the area.
Since then, the Prairie Township Senior Center has grown in membership and activities. According to Robin Comeans, senior center director, the center is chugging along full steam ahead.
The senior center opened in June 2004, with about 50 members, said Comeans. Membership has grown steady over the years, boasting about 300 members now. Recently, the senior center extended hours of operation for its working members.
Member Eleanor Jones considers herself one of the "founding members," and said she was with the group when sites were considered for the senior center.
"We're getting more and more established," said Jones. "We're getting there."
"We have a lot of members who still work during the day," Comeans said. "We're not always going to see all 300 members. Some are here all of the time, and some just come for special activities."
Members are able to join the township if they are age 50 and older and pay a yearly membership fee. Members do not have to live in the township, but those who do pay $15 a year. Non-resident members pay $25 per year. The only difference in membership fees, Comeans said, is that residents support the senior center with a township property tax. In order to join the senior center, members between the ages of 50-55, must complete seven hours of volunteer work in their first year at the senior center, and are at first, auxiliary members. According to Comeans, most volunteers work the front desk, greeting volunteers, answering phones and filing paperwork.
Though the youngest members are age 50, Comeans said three ladies at the senior center will celebrate their 92nd birthday in November together.
Activities and programs
The steady increase of membership has allowed the senior center to become creative in the activities it offers. Offering new programs is essential to gaining and retaining members, said Comeans.
"We're always working on new programs," he said. "Sometimes the programs we offer don't fly, and other times, they go off."
Ideas for programs come to the senior center in a variety of ways, including suggestions from members as well as ideas borrowed from other senior centers in the county. The programming is a combined effort in the senior center, as several members and relatives of members have taught programs.
"I could not do it without the volunteers," Comeans said.
One of the most popular activities is the bus tours, which began this month. During the warm weather, members have the opportunity to take tours of points of interest in central Ohio. The buses are provided by Life Ambulance and the Columbus Health Care Center.
Though the bus tours are now a big hit, drawing between 35 and 50 members, the activity took time to get off the ground.
"The first year, it was very difficult getting the bus tours going," Comeans said. "People weren't sure of the details, and the first year, we had a lot of cancellations. Now, it's not really a problem.
Sometimes, we go in together with other groups if we need to."
Other popular programs include exercise classes and the card club. The exercise programs are offered at a variety of levels, in order to meet the needs of members and their lifestyles. The card club is offered at open times throughout the week, and gives members a chance to play poker, canasta, bridge and pinochle, as well as golf.
Jones is "very active" at the senior center, and participates in activities such as the bus tours, chair volleyball and corn toss.
"We keep busy," she said. "Believe me, we have a lot of fun."
New programs the senior center has begun to offer include Kraft Korners, where members learn flower arrangements, wreath decorating and possibly, ceramics. Members also play corn toss, where a bean bag is tossed in a board cut with holes, as well as chair volleyball, which draws at least 20 people.
Nearly all programs are free to members, but the senior center charges $3 for aerobics and conditioning classes, due to the loss in supported funding through Mount Carmel Hospital. The center also charges $2 extra for a line dancing class it offers on Mondays.
The senior center receives most of its funding through the township. However, according to Comeans, members assist in raising money for the center through an organization called the Prairie Seniors Association, a group of senior center members. Fundraisers take place throughout the year in order to assist with funding the senior center. On average, the association raises nearly $300 a month for the center, according to Comeans.
Looking ahead to the next five years, Comeans is optimistic. Of course, the development of new and creative programs is always in the works, he said. But, he has an even bigger dream for the center.
"It has always been a dream that we have our own senior center," he said. "We have been at a part of the strip mall since day one, but it would be nice to have our own place and expand a little bit."
Eventually, Comeans would like to see the senior center redefined.
"I would like us to be known more as a senior community center, rather than just a senior center," he said. "We're not above trying to get more people."
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