An Ingham County community gets its senior center

The new Stockbridge Area Senior Center officially opens its doors at 219 W. Elm St. in Stockbridge later this month.

The new facility -- in a renovated old fire hall -- is the culmination of years of hard work by community groups and volunteers who have long wanted a permanent home to better serve the needs of the area’s senior citizens. 

Executive Director Dana Blaszkowski calls the new building more than a senior center -- it’s a community project that has drawn support from all corners of the region,  well beyond the borders of Stockbridge, located 36 miles southeast of Lansing.

The seniors are excited to be returning to community spaces again to see old friends and make new ones. When asked what she finds valuable about the Stockbridge Area Senior Center, member Mary says, “It gives purpose. This place gives us a reason to get up every day.” “You go home tired, it’s a good tired. It helps us fight depression. When you’re alone, it’s wonderful to know you have this to look forward to.”

How the center got started: The desire and need for a local senior center was not new to Stockbridge; community groups had rallied behind the idea well before a temporary facility opened its doors in the basement of the town hall. “(Groups) gathered for several years trying to figure out how that could come about and it just didn’t seem to ever be the right time,” says Jodelle Sparks, vice president of the center’s board of directors. 

One of the stumbling blocks had been a lack of financial resources in the Ingham County community. A group of faith and community leaders came together and developed 20 initiatives to help underdeveloped areas of the community, one of them was a senior center. 

An opportunity presented itself when Betti Wetherell, who had been working with the Tri-County Office on Aging, began running a local dining site for seniors. Sparks suggested “we could somehow build onto what she had … we could grow a senior center from these roots.” 

Those roots took hold. The senior center emerged from the dining spot in the town hall basement and operated there for about eight months. “Jodelle brought in these other organizations and groups and their resources,” helping create a board to oversee the center, Blaszkowski says. 

Community resources: Outside support was instrumental in the senior center’s success. The village and township of Stockbridge and various local organizations contributed to the new senior center. A grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund also helped. The Chelsea Senior Center near Ann Arbor became an important ally, acting as a fiduciary and mentor to the new senior center.

“We had huge contributions from the Stockbridge Area Wellness Coalition,” a nonprofit organization composed of community leaders and residents working to make the community healthy, Sparks says.  “They supported the senior center with funding to apply for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.” A mini library and book club are provided by the local library. 

Meals are provided by the Tri-County Office on Aging. Access to a food pantry is offered by Stockbridge Community Outreach. “They [Stockbridge Community Outreach] supplied the seniors with some food and other connections that they didn’t realize were available to them,” Sparks says. 

The impact: The new senior center has nearly 60 members who use the center and on any given day you’ll find up to a third of those members enjoying a host of activities, including yoga, exercise classes, a book club, game night and presentation. “Our membership goal for our first year was 50 members,” says Blaszkowski, noting the goal has already been surpassed within months of opening doors.  Members come from outside Stockbridge as well, prompting the name change from Stockbridge Township to Stockbridge Area Senior Center. “Not everyone who comes has a Stockbridge address and we’re super happy about that. We’re welcoming to other areas,” Blaszkowski says.

The solid membership is not surprising, given the isolation many senior citizens experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Being able to open post-pandemic when a lot of our senior community has been extremely isolated, it’s been incredible to see the difference it has made,” Blaszkowski says. 

“They’re coming, they’re exploring, they’re participating, and it’s growing,” says Sparks, who serves as vice president on the board of directors for the center. “It took off way faster than we thought it would.”

Looking Forward: The Stockbridge Area Senior Center will celebrate its new home with a grand opening on Aug. 27. The event will be held from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. and is open to the public. The new center offers more room for various senior activities, is accessible to the physically challenged and there are plans to make it a stop on W.A.V.E., the Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express. The non-profit service organization provides affordable transportation to older adults and people with disabilities. “We are immensely grateful for the work that Stockbridge Township has done to make the building shine for our community."

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