The Williamston Area Senior Center is no stranger to holiday events; from national pizza day to Australia Day, the staff keep members busy with festivities. The Valentine’s Day party on Monday was no exception, with a packed agenda of activities.
“The turnout was the biggest one we’ve had since COVID,” said senior Barbara Upleger. “Pretty soon we’ll need a new senior center.”
The pandemic created challenges for the senior center, having shut down completely in 2020. To stay connected with their community, administrative assistant Dawn Harris said they prepared and delivered outreach baskets to the seniors, eventually transitioning to outdoor events as restrictions were lifted.
“We were the first senior center to reopen,” said Harris. “We started just doing once-a-month picnics in the park, and let me tell you, that was a hit. We were getting 60 to 70 people coming to the picnics.”
Now that they are able to host events indoors, Upleger said events are back, especially under the new leadership of Executive Director Beth Schrader, who started working at the senior center in November.
“We try to celebrate every national holiday, from parakeet day to penguin day, to OREO Cookies’ birthday, to whatever. We try to celebrate everything,” said Schrader. “It makes it fun, we don’t want it to just be about lunch, it’s more about the social.”
Upleger said there were Valentine’s Day decorations, cookie decorating, and candy, as well as valentines from Challenger and Three Fires elementary schools in Howell. “They were darling; they had candy in them and they decorated them, it was so cute,” said Upleger.
Decorations are already up for Mardi Gras, said Upleger, who volunteers by preparing the senior center for events. The staff plans months ahead to properly advertise and create vision boards for each event.
“When something hits us in the middle of the night, we write it on the board so we don’t forget,” said Schrader. “We think outside the box on everything we do.”
Booking volunteers is an important aspect of planning each event to provide new entertainment and keep things fresh. Harris said their team can handle arts and crafts activities, but they prefer to bring in experts when it comes to more advanced projects like painting, pottery and other unique experiences. For example, animals are no strangers to the senior center, and there are plans to bring in Angora rabbits next Monday, as well as goats at a future picnic for members.
“We connect with people in the community constantly, trying to get them to interact with the seniors,” said Harris.
Schrader, Harris and Upleger attributed the success of the Valentine’s Day party to the need for community and socialization throughout the duration of the pandemic. The Williamston Area Senior Center serves as a gathering place for many seniors, whether it be for lunch or for a unique celebration.
“They missed it, they really did. It’s really kind of an important part of our community to have this senior center,” said Harris.