You’re never too young to take part in the services and activities available at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center in The Dalles.
“We are open to all ages, although our primary focus is older adults, and we are working on re-branding ourselves as ‘The Center,’” said Executive Director Scott McKay. “We have heard people say, ‘the Senior Center is just for old people, and I’m not old!’ But age doesn’t matter.”
The confusion comes, in part, from the longstanding association between the Center and The Dalles Meals on Wheels program, a nonprofit which prepares and serves noon meals in the Center dining area for anyone over 60 with a donation of $3.75.
Although the Center provides a home for the Meals on Wheels program and a weekly Thursday night Bingo fundraiser, the two entities are independent of each other: Meals on Wheels is funded separately and leases the kitchen and dining space from the Center.
All other programs hosted at the Center are open to all ages, McKay said.
“The Center is a great place to meet people who may have common experiences. Our mission is to enhance the community by sharing and caring, and we do that by providing opportunities for all generations to explore, connect and contribute to their community.”
There are a lot of them, said Joan Silver, vice president of the Center’s board of directors. “The general community does not know what we do here.”
Here are many of their current services and activities:
The Center operates a loan closet for durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, commodes, toilet seat risers, shower seats, transfer benches and the occasional hospital bed, all of which is donated by the community. Each item is sterilized and prepared for reuse at the Center, and can be borrowed for as long as necessary for a one-time fee of $10. “We encourage folks to call to see if we have the equipment they are looking for,” McKay said. “What we have is thanks to the donations from the community, so our inventory varies.” The equipment is available for anyone of any age.
AARP Tax Aide
The Center hosts the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program, which provides free tax preparation for low and moderate income individuals of all ages. The program is administered locally by the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council and run by trained volunteers. It is a first-come-first-served program. During the first weeks the lines are long, said McKay, but don’t be intimidated. “They will tell you if they can serve you that day, and approximately when.” The program begins Saturday, Feb. 1, and will continue through April 11. They can file your tax returns electronically.
The Center also administers the SHIBA program (Senior Health Insurance Benefit Assistance), which provides confidential counseling to help you choose the best Medicare insurance option. The Medicare program, as with any insurance program, is complicated, McKay said. “You can work with your insurance agent, but you can also meet with a trained SHIBA volunteer to better understand your options so you can decide what is best for you.” To make an appointment, call the Center at 541-296-4788 or contact SHIBA directly at 541-288-8341.
Exercise & movement classes
A range of exercise and movement classes take place at the Center. They include Chair Yoga (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., $3); Strength Chair Yoga (Wednesdays and Fridays, (9:15 to 10:30 a.m., $3); Strong Women, a best-practices program (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 to 3 p.m. $3); Table Tennis (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3 p.m., free); and Tai Chi (Tuesdays at 1 p.m., $2.)
AARP Smart Driver courses
AARP Smart Driver courses are offered the third Monday and Tuesday of each month, from 8:45 a.m. to noon. Cost is $20/$15, and completion of the full two-day program can reduce auto insurance rates.
Quilters meet at the Center every Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Needle Nutz (stitching and knitting) meets every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon.
A computer and tablet help lab is available by appointment; cost is $2.
Five card-related games attract players at the Center, including Pinochle (Thursdays 1 to 3 p.m., by donation, and Fridays 6 to 9 p.m., $6 per night); Mahjong (Fridays 1 to 4 p.m., $1); Dominoes (Tuesdays, 1 p.m., $1); Bunco (third Tuesday, 1 to 3 p.m., $3); and Poker (Mondays, 6 p.m., $1.)
Chair massage is offered by appointment the first Friday of the month; cost is $20.
Bingo is offered at the Center every Thursday and Saturday night, beginning at 6 p.m. Games have a minimum $10 buy in.
Funding the Center
Except for a contract with the state of Oregon to administer the SHIBA program, which does not include operational costs, the Center is funded entirely by the community, Silver said. “We receive no federal, city, state, or county funding—we are not a part of anyone’s budget.”
The Center’s operational budget is $120,900, said Silver, and paid staff includes an executive director and janitorial services.
All other work at the Center, from running the front desk to calling Bingo games, is done by volunteers. The Center currently has about 50 active volunteers, McKay said. “At the Center you have opportunities to contribute by volunteering, whether it is with Bingo, the NU-2-U Shop or teaching a class where you have special skills. We rely on volunteers.”
Money is raised through individual events, rentals, leases, memberships, Saturday Bingo and the NU-2-U thrift store, the “smallest little thrift store in The Dalles.” The Center is used by a number of groups, including the Toastmasters, Ham Radio Operators, ARC Friendship Club, Pomona Meadows, Boy Scout troop #395, two AA groups and two church services, as well as housing coalition meetings. The Center also rents space for events.
Saturday Bingo is the biggest fundraiser for the Center (Thursday Bingo helps fund the Meals on Wheels program.) The average payout is over $1,300 a night.
An annual fundraiser is also held each spring. This year it is a “Meal-A-Month Raffle,” with three chances to win a dozen $25 gift certificates from local restaurants (see related story.) Tickets can be purchased at the Center for $10 a piece or three for $25, or at the drawing on Feb. 7, which is sponsored by NW Natural and will include wine and appetizers. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the drawing is at 6 p.m.
Additional funding activities include:
You can support the Center by becoming a member at $35 per person or $60 per couple a year. “We also have fun by offering a Super Duper membership for $50 per person,” McKay said. “Even if you are not a member, you can still participate in all the activities and programs,” he added.
This tiny thrift shop housed at the Center is operated by volunteers, and all items are donated. New used clothes are added weekly and, because of the size of the store, only the best is displayed for sale. “We have the lowest prices in town,” McKay said.
Every year two beautiful handmade quilts are raffled off as a fundraiser. The next drawing will be at the Cherry Festival Breakfast; the current quilt being raffled is on display in the lobby on the wall behind the front desk. The quilting group at the Center also sells one-of-a-kind lap blankets they have made, which are displayed throughout the Center. “They also will repair quilts that have a special meaning for folks for a negotiated price,” McKay said.
“The Center is a place where you connect with people with similar interests—from the classes to enjoying a Meals-on-Wheels noon dinner,” McKay noted. “For many older folks, their closest friends have passed away, but at the Center you can meet new people and make new friends.”
Although the Center is serving community members of all ages, they continue to serve as advocates for older adults, and partner with other community efforts such as “Circles of Care,” a new program connecting older adults in the Gorge to volunteers that can help with supportive services. That program brings together older adults and teen volunteers, yet another way the Center is, as its slogan proclaims, “enriching the community by sharing and caring.”
The Mid-Columbia Senior Center is located at 1112 W 9th St., The Dalles and is online at www.midcolumbiaseniorCenter.com; telephone 541-296-4788.
Flora Gibson contributed to this report.