The first thing visitors will note when they walk into the Mid-Columbia Senior Center are the dedicated volunteers running the reception desk. Looking around, they will also see a vibrant community of all ages enjoying each other’s company over a healthy, freshly cooked meal or through a variety of activities, such as Tai Chi and dominoes.
The senior center is dedicating the month of February to letting the community know about the quiet work done by businesses and volunteers to create a gathering place for anyone who wants to socialize or get involved with programs.
As part of that goal, the center has two fundraisers coming up in February: The International Chicken Dinner, which will be held Friday, Feb. 9, from 5 to 7 p.m., and a Bagel Brunch from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25. Tickets for the dinner are $20 per person and limited to 200 people, while bagel brunch tickets are $10 each with no occupancy limit. All tickets can be bought at the door, ahead of time at the center, or through one of the 11 board members.
Proceeds will be used to sustain the many programs that are now available.
One of the center’s most popular programs is the durable medical equipment loan closet, which houses a variety of donated devices, available for anyone to borrow as they recover from a surgery or treatment at no cost other than a suggested donation.
The program began over 10 years ago as just a closet stocked with donated wheelchairs and walkers, but has grown to meet most equipment needs.
In addition to equipment that aids in mobility, the loan closet offers shower seats and even a hospital bed.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for: To meet the needs of the community,” said Joan Silver, a longtime volunteer and one of MCSC’s 11 board members.
The Dalles Chamber of Commerce named Silver as their 2017 Woman of the Year at their Distinguished Citizens’ Banquet last month for her volunteer work and dedication to the community.
The durable medical equipment closet is one of the center’s most popular programs, MCSC director Scott McKay said.
Their second major program is the popular NU-2-U clothing shop, which has been part of the center since it was built. The items sold are all donated and “it’s beautifully managed by volunteers,” Silver said, calling the shop one of the busiest in town.
McKay is the center’s only paid employee; the rest of its staffing needs are fulfilled through volunteers, including active board members.
“When [McKay] is out of the building, a lot of needs wait for him,” Silver said.
Although the center receives funding from the city and county for special projects, it does not get state or federal dollars on a regular basis, so operating funds come primarily from NU-2-U, memberships, community events like Saturday night bingo, fundraisers and donations.
Bingo is held every Thursday and Saturday night, with doors opening at 4 p.m. and games starting at 6 p.m. New players are encouraged to arrive by 5:30 p.m. Minimum buy-in is $10 and the payout is over $1,300 each night, volunteers report. Bingo is one of the center’s most popular events, as well as one of its biggest fundraisers.
Other funds come from The Dalles Rifle and Pistol Club, which meets in the basement, and The Dalles Meals-on-Wheels, which serves meals at the center five days a week and delivers lunch to those who find it difficult to prepare their own and could use someone checking up on them every now and again.
“There’s a good working relationship that we have with our tenants,” Silver said.
The center also hosts community groups, such ARK friendship meetings, Alcoholics Anonymous, Pomona Meadow Homes, Boy Scouts and more.
“Sometimes the challenge is finding a time to fit someone to be here,” McKay said, adding that it has been a lot easier to accommodate events since the elevator and basement were renovated.
McKay and Silver urge anyone looking for a meeting place to contact them, they’re willing to negotiate costs.
“We want people using this facility,” Silver said, adding that she wants “to help people understand that this is a community center” for all ages, not just the senior population.
Though many events take place during the day and are of primary interest to senior citizens, events like bingo appeal strongly to community members under the age of 50 and people of all ages are welcome at the center.
The center hosts a variety of activities and classes, from Tai Chi and Zumba to Pinacle and table tennis, as well as presentations and lectures covering a wide variety of topics.
Classes are volunteer-run and often generated by individuals who have an interest in providing their class or activity to the community. Several classes charge fees, but the majority are free to participants. McKay and Silver encourage anyone with an idea for a class they would like to teach at the center to contact them.
The idea for a dedicated senior center in The Dalles was originated with the group United Seniors for a Senior Center campaign in 1980. Though a senior center had operated out of a small room in the Civic Auditorium since 1968, seniors wanted a place that could provide adequate space for the already popular Meals-on-Wheels program and others.
A community development grant was received after several attempts in 1986 and construction began on the new center that spring. The facility officially opened on the 1.28-acre site across from St. Mary’s School in January of 1987 and has been flourishing there since.
MCSC is located at 1112 West Ninth Street, The Dalles, and is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., plus evenings and weekends for regular events.
For more information, call the center at 541-296-4788, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit online at www.midcolumbiaseniorcenter.com.