Dorie Sugay

More than 3,300 seniors visited the Morgan Hill Senior Center for a total of 51,289 times between 2017 and 2018. These  numbers are an astounding endorsement of the center.

But some seniors are still not sure it is for them. Some say, “I don’t want to go there, it’s full of old folks.”

Let’s get on the same page about what “old” means. The bark of wood that gets dry and cracks — that’s “old.” The person who complains about everything and is crackling ornery — that’s being old. Anyone who is “way, way older than 21” who appreciates and tries to enjoy life, they are aging. The Morgan Hill Senior Center is not for the old. It is for the aging. It is for the “glad timers.” You see, to enjoy this wonderful place, you need to either be somewhat active or at least wish to be around active people having fun.

As you approach the building, beautiful greenery and flowers welcome you. When you enter, you get a taste of hospitality you won’t expect. The staff, comprised of several volunteers, is very friendly and helpful. When asked what makes them seem so happy, one said: “We don’t need to be here. We volunteer because we love helping older adults.”

At the helm is a dynamic duo: Debbie Vasquez, the able leader with a big heart, and Program Coordinator Denise Melroy, who, by the way, seems to have that superpower to remember everyone’s names. You will feel welcome, for sure. Overwhelmingly busy, visitors appreciate how they manage to give people focused attention and really listen.  In no time, you get a strong feeling that they want to make sure you have a wonderful experience.

The center offers more than you might imagine. Stroll down the hallway and hear the sound of friendly but competitive sideline comments as people play ping-pong. You will see people seated, getting ready for a presentation by a forensic scientist. They recognize that brain stimulation is key to aging successfully and started the Lifelong Learning Program. Through the Morgan Hill Senior Center, you can have access to a swimming pool or can take exercise classes. They recognize that physical activity is very important.

In October, working with the Morgan Hill Aging Council and members of the Chamber of Commerce, the group holds Healthy Aging Week and offers the community many activities and access to resources. The center manages the Get’N Around Program which offers transportation to older adults through volunteers who have been prescreened. The group wants to make Morgan Hill “age friendly” and it is their mission to provide resources, information and support to older adults in the community. They even reach out and check on those who stop coming for one reason or another — just to make sure they know that the center is not just a facility but a support for older adults. The center is popular for its lunches.  Believe it or not, they often sell out, so if you want to check it out, you better get there before noon.

Virginia Benche is a senior who lives alone and deals with limited mobility but that has not stopped her — she uses a power chair to get around. “The Senior Center gives me the opportunity to socialize, have fun, stimulate my brain, and have a delicious meal,” she said. It offers card games, all types of exercise for all types of folks and ailments, thought provoking lectures and entertainment.

The center is providing an important service to the community.  When the city went through significant budget cuts, the Senior Center’s funding was reduced, posing a threat to the continuance of services.

To continue operation during these difficult times, the Friends of the Morgan Hill Senior Center was established and this group has allowed the center to weather the storms and continue its work. But for an operation this size to continue serving thousands of people and expand, more funding is necessary.

As part of the Sustainability Plan, the Senior Advisory Committee’s Endowment Group, led by Cricket Rubino and Debbie Vasquez, is  launching a project to solidify the center’s financial footing as it deals with a growing need for its services in the community. More details will be released shortly.

Dorie Sugay is the owner and Executive Director of Visiting Angels in Gilroy whose mission is to help older adults in Santa Clara and San Benito counties continue to live in their own homes or receive personalized care in a facility. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life. Contact her at [email protected]

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