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Published January 14, 2015
 
Seniors find friends, fellowship — and food — with senior center’s nutrition program
 
By Sherri Butler
Courtesy The Herald Leader
 
If there was no Ben Hill County Senior Citizens Center, Frances Crozier says, “I’d just sit home and watch TV, and I don’t like to watch TV.” Mrs. Crozier is in the center’s nutrition program and has been going there for lunch on week days for some seven or eight years.

“The main reason I come is to get out of the house,” she says. “I look forward to it. I miss it when I don’t come. I’ve made friends. We play bingo, have a devotion and exercise every day if we feel like it.”

That chance for fellowship, activity, a good meal and more are just what Cathy Posey, director of the center, hopes to provide for the nearly 30 seniors enrolled in the center’s nutrition program. She would like to see even more Ben Hill Countians take advantage of what the program has to offer.

A Valdosta native, Cathy has been working for Ben Hill County for 19 years, starting in the Roads Department, where she worked for five years. She was also working with the elderly in a temporary position. When the previous director retired, Cathy was a natural to take her place.

“Cathy is very dedicated,” says Frank Feild, county administrator. “She loves her seniors.” She’s also a good leader and Feild says it takes “good leadership to make the center what it is.”

He rates the center as “very important” for Ben Hill County. “It’s important for our seniors to stay active, to get up in the morning and get out.”

Feild describes the center as a “customer-focused operation.” The people who use it can ask for things that they would like to have there, and the center will work very hard to make those things come about.

Over the years there have been quilting classes, classes for tatters and crocheters, ceramics and needlework, whatever participants are interested in at the time. “If the customers want something bad enough, we’ll do everything we can to provide it,” Feild says.

He notes that fish fries and the annual Christmas dinner, which are special occasions, are always well attended, but he would like more people to know that “it’s special every day. We would like to see more people using it.”

Cathy believes that the senior center can help seniors live longer at home by keeping them active and involved.

She took the helm as director in 2002. When Connie Harmon retired as director of the nutrition program, those responsibilities were given to her as well.

Her work is also her passion. “There is so much of a need for the nutrition program,” she says. The fellowship, the dressing and getting out into the world for a bit each day, are at least as important as getting the healthy meal.

The main requirement to participate is age — participants must be age 60 or above. Those interested can call Cathy at the center, 426-5085, to see about taking part. A phone interview with someone with the South Georgia Area Agency on Aging will be set up. The interviewer will want to know about things such as existing health problems, etc. After the interview, Cathy will be notified if the applicant is accepted and she will notify the applicant.

Right now, 23 people are enrolled in the program, but she would like to see that number climb to 30. The number of participants is an important factor in receiving funding.

Gathering at the center begins at 8 a.m. on week day mornings. After the meal is served, there is time for bingo and other games and those attending can talk to staff about any problems they’re having and get assistance in keeping on schedule with their medications. Participants usually help set up for the meal and clear after it. For those who aren’t able to drive themselves or hitch a ride with a family member, there is a van service that will pick them up if they live within a 10-mile radius of the center.

Sometimes guests come in to talk about health issues of concern to seniors, such as diabetes, stroke and more. Someone comes in periodically to provide hearing checks and can assist seniors in cleaning their hearing aids and putting in new batteries.

Last year there was also a market program that brought fresh produce to the center. Seniors could pick out what they liked to take it home for another meal. Cathy hopes this will be back again this summer.

Last year, there was a picnic and anglers in the group got a chance to fish. They caught 65 bream for their own fish fry. Another time, the group enjoyed a meal at Red Lobster. There was an Easter egg hunt last year and it was such a hit that Cathy says it will be back this year — and a bit more challenging, too.

Cathy makes the nutrition program work, somehow, with a budget of $42,000 in federal, state and Ben Hill County funding. The fish fries are supported entirely by the county. DLS Dir. Joe Parrish buys the fish and cooks for the events.

The nutrition program is only part of what the senior center offers.

Duplicate bridge games are held there on Thursday evenings (all bridge players are welcome to join in), and Mary Frances Cantrell teaches bridge on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. The senior singles dance group that started with just 20 people now has 100, meeting here on the second Friday of the month and in Douglas, Tifton or Nashville on other Fridays. “They love it,” Cathy says.

Bingo nights are the first Thursday of the month, from 4-6 p.m., offering all comers a chance to play, snack and socialize.

The Magnolia Garden Club continues to meet there occasionally. The local UAW chapter meets there, and the Ben Hill-Irwin Retired Teachers Association holds its Fitzgerald meetings there. In all, eight or nine organizations hold their regular meetings at the center.

Class reunions, birthday parties, anniversary celebrations are often held there, as are many Christmas parties. There is a rental fee for private gatherings.

Health fairs and health screenings are also regularly on the schedule, and the Sweet Dreams program provides information on diabetes II, including ways to lessen the chances of developing it and health strategies for those who have it.

The center is open Monday-Thursday, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and on Friday from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Part-time staff include Grace Driver, assistant director, J.D. King, Clairetha Moore, LaKenya Ford and Wanda Allure.

Cathy would love to see more volunteers and donations from the community. “Come teach a class, read a story or just come and spend time with them and make them feel special.” She’s sure that anyone who does will enjoy the time spent with the seniors. She does. “I love them.”