September marks National Senior Center Month

September isn't just the month when energetic schoolchildren go back to class, it's also a time to honor the silver-haired society: senior citizens.

September marks National Senior Center Month and is a time to celebrate. The Sequim Senior Activity Center is hosting an open house 1-3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26. The entire community is invited to attend the party, tour the center and enjoy live entertainment, refreshments and door prizes.

More than 30 "VIP" civic leaders have been invited and the invitation extends to the rest of the community as well, said Margaret Cox, board president. "We want this to be a fun event for both members to try new activities and for the Sequim community to become familiar with what a great community resource we are."

To RSVP, call 683-6806.

A brief history

The Sequim Senior Activity Center was founded in 1971, according to executive director Michael Smith. The organization started as a casual gathering of friends meeting regularly at somebody's house. As the group grew, members gathered where the city council now meets, at the transit center on the corner of Second Avenue and Cedar Street. The city of Sequim let the seniors meet in the old wooden building from 1975-1992, at no cost, Smith said. In 1992 the group bought its current facility on East Hammond Street. In 2002, senior center movers and shakers expanded the building, adding several activity rooms and offices. Three years later, the group bought the lot across the street for overflow parking.

A glimpse into the future

The center planned to expand the Hammond Street building and pave a parking lot across the street but that idea was vetoed at the annual October board meeting last year. Now, Smith is leading the quest for a new, larger building to continue expanding the senior center's activities and membership.

A 2 1/2-acre or larger parcel of land in the immediate Sequim area - but not necessarily within city limits - would be perfect, Smith said. If the land has a building in place that would meet the center's current and future needs, that would be great, he continued, if not, a facility would be built.

Smith is contacting donors who gave money to the senior center with the intent of helping pave the parking lot and asking permission to use the funds for buying and/or building a new facility.

"This site is not big enough for a developing senior center and parking lot if you look 20, or even five, years down the road," Smith said. "There are some sites we are looking at but we don't have the money to buy them."

Ideally, Smith said, an organization or individual will step up and donate some land, but since he doesn't see that happening the senior center is accepting donations and raising money to make the dream come true.

The Hammond Street building is 12,000 square feet and the senior center needs about 20,000 square feet, Smith said to give public an idea of how cramped the quarters are.

Donations can be made to the capital campaign and mailed to P.O. Box 1827, Sequim, WA 98382.

Young or old,

become a member

Contrary to popular belief, the senior center isn't just for the "elderly," Smith emphasized. The youngest member is 35 years old and the eldest is almost 100.

Though middle age people often come to the center inquiring about membership for their parents, they would be surprised at how they can benefit from joining, Smith said.

Benefits of membership include receiving a monthly newsletter in the mail and discounts on travel tours, computer classes, renting the building for family functions, event tickets and more. "Not to mention the feeling of supporting an important community resource," Smith said.

The senior center has 1,450 members and nearly 140 volunteers.

Another common misconception, according to Smith, is that the center is funded by the city of Sequim. In reality, the center isn't city, county, state or federally funded - with the exception of some federal grants - at all. As a nonprofit organization, funding comes from membership dues, activity fees, donations and grants.

"I've toured other senior centers and I know we are one of the most active centers for our population," Smith said. "We appeal to a wide age group and I think we are doing a great job with what we have available; we are squeezing all we can out of what we've got."

In October, the board of directors will seek four individuals to replace members up for election. Candidates must be at least 50 years old and members of the center in good standing. Directors serve a three-year term and may be re-elected to a second term if they choose to run again. After being elected twice, they must take a one-year break before they are eligible to run again.

The board is comprised of 11 persons. Members are expected to contribute at least 8-10 hours a month.

"Come here and bring your life experiences to help enrich the lives of others," Smith encouraged potential board and regular members.

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