Senior center brings change, opportunity

The Chisago County Senior Center, located in the Ecumen Uptown Maple Commons building at 38790 Sixth Ave. in downtown North Branch, offers a variety of different opportunities for seniors who especially enjoy the fellowship there. Photo by Jon Tatting

The Chisago County Senior Center, located in the Ecumen Uptown Maple Commons building at 38790 Sixth Ave. in downtown North Branch, offers a variety of different opportunities for seniors who especially enjoy the fellowship there.
Photo by Jon Tatting

The folks at the Chisago County Senior Center have a message for the community: They are not closed and don’t plan on closing any time soon.

The Chisago County Board on Aging, which operates the senior center, is attempting to get this message across to both seniors and the general community. It’s a time of transition, especially, as board members believe the center can do so much more in meeting the needs of seniors and all generations who are more than welcome to give something back.

Last week, the Post Review sat down with local seniors and board members – Carol Stradinger, secretary; Karen Kubat, vice president; Judy Weiss; and Diane Youngquist – who talked about the changes and reorganization taking shape and at the North Branch-based senior center.

Regarding its leadership, they began, the Board on Aging has grown from five to 13 active members, including Larry Peterson, who serves as board president, and treasurer Lois Johnson. An audit is needed, they said, while the board is in the process of amending and updating its bylaws, which have been in place and mainly unchanged since 1996.

Annual elections are starting this year in October, when the annual meeting is held, and those ages 60 and up can vie for the six or seven board seats that will be on the ballot.

Open to the public, board meetings are held at 9:30 a.m. the third Thursday of every month at the senior center, located at 38790 Sixth Ave. in the Ecumen Uptown Maple Commons building.

Further, with the departure of Catholic Charities some time ago, the senior center lost its license to have a commercial kitchen. Wanting congregate dining back, the board is applying for a grant to once again host a dining site and obtain the needed equipment.

Meanwhile, the arrangement with the Oak Inn restaurant in North Branch is still in play until the end of the year. Taher, the food service company that contracts with the school district and provided meals for the center earlier this year, could very well return in the fall with no other agreement in place. Catholic Charities could still be an option, too, they said.

The senior center and office hours are now 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the week, while other hours remain available for use.

Those looking for a place to rent for birthdays, anniversaries and other social events or celebrations can contact the office at 651-674-8658. Renting the dining room along with the strip kitchen is $60, while the activity room and training room rent for $40 and $25, respectively.

While the financial situation at the senior center is unstable at this time, any donations in the form of volunteer talent, certain supplies and furniture (tables and coffee, for instance) and suggestions for future activities are appreciated. And since the center is currently staffed by volunteers, all donations are used to keep the center operating — from paying utilities to buying supplies to, ultimately, providing a service to the community.

Currently, about 30 volunteers are involved at the senior center. They help answer phones, assist with maintenance duties and prepare the newsletter, and there’s a volunteer coordinator to keep everyone organized. Volunteers are people of all ages.

Board members also are spending time identifying needs as the senior population grows. Activities, resulting social time and community partnerships are held in high regard, and almost every Thursday is potluck day — an event for everyone, not just seniors.

Aside from bingo, fitness activities and other programs, the senior center offers a monthly newsletter with a schedule of events and other information. People can take advantage of a book exchange and some magazines. A church service is offered at 10:30 a.m. Sundays. A new idea that has surfaced has been a community garden.

It’s a time of reorganization for the Chisago County Senior Center and its board, which invites all county commissioners and mayors to get involved, as well. They want to keep everyone informed and be as transparent as possible in their operations.

“We’re letting people know we’re still there,” Youngquist said of a program that attracted 14,000 seniors, including those from around the region, last year. “It’s a safe place to be, and it’s a beautiful place. We want to meet seniors’ needs.”

“It’s important to families to have a place, a center for seniors to go,” Kubat noted. “We are advocates for this place. We are trying to offer more and more activities.”

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