From left around the table, Benny Deakins, Keith Good, Betty Nelson and Cym Ross grimly talk impeachment at the Dade Senior Center.
Parents often complain that Dade County has nothing for teenagers to do and nowhere for them to go. The same, Barbara Castleberry is happy to report, cannot be said for people over 60.
"We're doing something at the Senior Center every day," she said.
Ms. Castleberry is nutrition director at the Dade Senior Center, but she wants the county to know the center has much more than food to offer. There are organized activities like classes, field trips and lectures by guest speakers, as well as free-form activities like games, crafts, gardening, shopping and walking on the walking track.
Then there's always your basic elbow-rubbing, breeze-shooting and fat-chewing--the simple pleasure of hanging out with others. People of all ages do, after all, get fed up with sitting home alone.
"This is an outing for them," said Ms. Castleberry. "We try to have something for everyone."
Photos: Above center director Barbara Castleberry holds up a tube of hand lotion for a penny auction prize. Below right, the center visit afforded The Planet the opportunity to hang out with another newspaper writer, Naomi Wilkes, who for years has covered senior news for The Dade Sentinel.
The Dade Senior Center, located at 9625 Highway 11, next to the Four Fields athletic complex, offers a place to go, things to do and people to see, all free of charge to county residents who have racked up their three score years. There is even the proverbial free lunch. That's thanks to federal and state grants administered through the Coosa Valley Regional Association, under the auspices of the Area Agency on Aging.
These days, of course, the saying is that 60 is the new 40, and Ms. Castleberry knows that many at the younger end of the qualifying age bracket may not think of themselves as senior-center fodder. But she's eager to recruit those people, too. "I like to have young blood because young blood creates energy for the older people," she said. As for the upper age limit, there isn't one, and Ms. Castleberry has had members come in well into their 90s. The only stipulation is that participants must be able to take care of themselves or, if disabled, be accompanied by a caretaker. Programs are designed for active seniors, and the center doesn't have enough staff to offer assisted living services.
The center's day program is complemented by Dade Transit, which picks some seniors up at their homes in the morning and takes them back after lunch. But about half the participating seniors prefer to drive in themselves, and some work or have other obligations during the day. That's why the center just added a Monday noon session to its exercise class lineup, so that people can come during their lunch hour. "We just started that the first of January," said Ms. Castleberry.
The morning exercise class is 10-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some exercises are chair-based; for others, participants stand or stretch beside their chairs. "It's really just basic exercise for seniors to build up their core muscles," said Ms. Castleberry.
Photos: Group exercise classes (top) are available three days a week for those inclined. For those who prefer to sit still and ignore others, there's always the good old NYT crossword (right).
When The Planet popped by the Senior Center on a recent rainy Tuesday, most of the program participants were taking advantage of the exercise class. But a tour through the center showed there was plenty else to do.
Sisters Rhonda Pilgrim Young and Della Sneed were sewing, piecing together a commemorative tablecloth for a widowed sister-in-law from squares cut from her husband's shirts. "All his shirts," said Ms. Young: Besides the tablecloth, they are also making placemats and curtains.
Photos: Rhonda Young (foreground) and Della Sneed piece a tablecloth, displayed below by Ms. Young and Barbara Castleberry.
The center has sewing machines which the sisters use for some projects, but today they were doing handwork and Ms. Sneed demonstrated how she puts the needle in and out of the fabric by feel--both the sisters have congenital macular degeneration they inherited from their father, and both are legally blind. "You've heard that saying about the blind leading the blind?" quipped Ms. Pilgrim. "That's about how it is."
The sisters have quilted and sewed since they can remember--"We used to make doll clothes when we were kids," said Ms. Sneed--but now they enjoy doing it at the center because it's a chance to get out of their respective houses and socialize a little.
There are also lectures--the week The Planet visited, the center hosted
weatherman Patrick Core--and classes. One that's coming up soon is a class on basic computer skills. This year the center is using its $2000 supplementary grant to buy computer equipment, and Ms. Castleberry is planning to teach anyone interested in how to travel on the net, use email, kill time on Facebook--the basics. "The majority of these people out here were raised in a generation that don't want anything to do with computers, so I'm breaking them in easy," she said. "But I've got three or four that are really excited about that."
In 2018 and '19, the annual grant was used to transform a sizable patch of the center's back lawn into gardens. There's a memory garden devoted to departed members, planted in roses that didn't look like much in winter but which will be springing back to life shortly. "I have park benches out here," said Ms. Castleberry. "Once a month people come in and play music, and now they can plug in and do it outside."
Then there are also raised beds of varying sizes where members of a horticultural turn of mind grow all manners of vegetables. Here again, Ms. Castleberry says it's a matter of taste. "Some of them won't even go out there because they're not interested, but some of them love to go out there and work in the garden," said Ms. Castleberry. The garden not only provides recreational opportunities for those inclined but has been a handy way to supplement food supplies. "We are able to let the seniors take home some tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, whatever they need, and then we send it to our homebound people, too," said Ms. Castleberry.
She explained that the kitchen at the center, as well as feeding the members attending the programs, provides "meals on wheels" lunches to homebound seniors. These can be either hot or frozen. Some recipients, says Ms. Castleberry, live too far off for food to arrive even remotely warm. Others simply don't like to eat as early as the center delivers. In both cases, the center delivers frozen lunches recipients can heat up at their leisure.
At the center, lunch is served regularly at 11:15 a.m. Monday through Friday. For seniors participating in the program, that is--you can't just pop by for lunch because the center needs some idea how many people it's feeding. "It's not a drive-in restaurant," said Ms. Castleberry.
But back to activities: The Planet also visited a free-form recreation room, where two men were working on a jigsaw puzzle, one woman painted, another filled in the blank spaces of an adult coloring book--and everybody talked.
"I'm for getting rid of Trump," said Betty Nelson. She was the painter. She took it up in her 60s, she said, and: "I'm not getting any better."
"I love Trump," said Danny Veal. "I hope he's a three-time president."
"They're all in it for money," pronounced Benny Deakins darkly.
Conversation was spirited. "We get so loud they have to shut that door," said Ms. Nelson.
Photos: Above, the center's Wall of Paintings, where members' artwork is displayed. At right, Jose Tomas (left) and Danny Veal work on a massive jigsaw puzzle.
It's not all sitting around jawing, of course. Some days, center members go on shopping trips on the Dade Transit vans around the local shops and grocery stores. Transit vans also take members to doctor appointments in Chattanooga, and periodically there's a just-for-fun field trip farther afield.
If you'd like to participate in the program, or if you know somebody 60 or better who might get a kick out of it, Ms. Castleberry wants you to know you--or they--are welcome. It's not an all-day commitment: Open hours are from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. though participants who ride the transit vans get there much earlier, and the vans take them home at noon.
Nor is it an all-week commitment if you've got other fish to fry. Ms. Castleberry prefers members to come at least two or three days a week but stresses: "It's open to anybody in the county who wants to come."
For more information--or to sign up--Ms. Castleberry invites you to call her at (706) 657-7434. And if you need a lift, remember that seniors ride Dade Transit for free (and any other Dade resident for a buck or two). The number for Dade Transit is 657-8277.