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Senior centers offer camaraderie in the golden years

Published: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 11:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 11:34 a.m. CDT

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Outside the McHenry Township Senior Center, 72-year-old Jerry Toussaint lines up his shot on the bocce ball court.

He’s hoping the 3-to-5-pound red ball he’s tossing will end up closer to a small yellow ball than his opponents’ green bocce balls.

The players, who have been playing at the senior center for seven years, are yelling “curve, curve” during Toussaint’s shot.

“It almost looks like we know what we’re doing,” said Toussaint, of McHenry.

The game is just one of the ways senior centers help form friendships and camaraderie among senior citizens.

Because they became friends while doing activities together, the seniors have people they can rely on to help run errands or pick them up from doctor’s appointments, Toussaint said.

“It’s nice for us old people,” Toussaint said.

At the McHenry Township Senior Center, there is a computer lab for seniors to learn about technology, such as how to use a tablet, how to attach a photo to an email, or how to use the Windows operating system. Seniors come in and are playing Mahjong, dominoes or cards.

“There’s always something going on,” said Julie McFarlin, Senior Services Associates activities director at the senior center. “It doesn’t have to be the playing of anything.”

Some seniors even get over their shyness by coming to the senior center.

During the day, there is bean-bag toss in one of the rooms. Then the room will switch over for the bridge club. Art classes also take place to help seniors paint or make jewelry or greeting cards.

Speakers will come to talk about different topics, such as staying safe in a house and how to remain independent. Activity directors even organize blood pressure checks and flu shot clinics.

“That’s a good reason to come, but what I see, and what I hear, is this buzz of camaraderie, and I think that is really special about this place,” McFarlin said. “They’ll be here all day, they’ll drink coffee, and they’ll talk and tease each other. They’ll give each other a hard time. ... It’s just more than the game.”

Inside the Cary Senior Center, which is operated by the Cary Park District, there are probably 100 to 150 people who come to the center during the course of a week, to play pinochle or dominoes, or to go on occasional day trips to malls or plant nurseries.

“We keep them very busy with a wide variety of things,” senior coordinator Jayne Anderson said. “We see people [from] the ages of 50 and up. There is a wide variety of activities to be of interest to people.”

Seniors will come in at 8:30 a.m., meet with a group for an activity, maybe have lunch and then leave at 1:30 p.m., Anderson said. They do activities such as dominoes, sing as part of a glee club or discuss books.

“We hear every single day that they are so thankful they found the senior center,” Anderson said. “It opened something new for them, in this phase of life, things they feel are rewarding.”

For Anderson, she loves seeing the friendships form.

“The most rewarding thing to me ... is when I see new people come ... find an interest, and in a short amount of time have friends, going to lunch with them and having a relationship outside of the senior center,” Anderson said. 

Back at the McHenry Township Senior Center, before a lunch of chicken, rice and mixed vegetables, there are people playing dominoes and cards at different tables in the building.

Marlene Johnson, 74, of McHenry comes five days a week and has been going to the senior center since 2007.

“When we get somebody new in ... I try to find something they could do [or] want to do,” Johnson said. “I think it’s good for them, they should get out every day. Why sit at home? I mainly come because there’s people around me.”

Bill Fenwick, 85, of McHenry is at the senior center to play Mexican Train Dominoes with a group of regulars.

“We know what we’re suppose to do, but sometimes we don’t do,” Fenwick said. “We coach each other.”

Fenwick gets there about 10 a.m. and stays until 1:30 or 2 p.m. He checks in, signs up for lunch and says hello to everybody.

“These are our friends,” Fenwick said. “It’s important because you want to get out. Friendships are very important ... because they’re our neighbors. And it says in the Bible, ‘Love your neighbor.’ ”

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