Hartselle Senior Center gives purpose to seniors, volunteers
By Kaliga Rice
For the Enquirer
A symbol of companionship, the Hartselle Senior Center is unknown to many in the Hartselle community. The primary goal of the center is to get the elderly out of their homes and help them become involved in some sort of pastime. The senior center is currently serving about 45 senior citizens.
To become a member of the center, citizens must be 60 years or older. People of all ages can visit as guests or volunteers, and caregivers are also allowed to accompany their seniors.
To accomplish the goal of senior involvement, the senior center offers various activities in which seniors can participate – including reading books, watching television, working puzzles and participating in games such as bingo and trivia.
A favorite activity among the seniors is card playing. The senior center houses tables where people can play various card games, including Rook, Uno and Canasta.
Involvement in the senior center also gives seniors the opportunity to go on trips. Destinations range from restaurants to the Senior Expo, which is held annually in Huntsville.
In addition to participating in numerous activities and going on trips, seniors can maintain healthy lifestyles; the senior center offers a workout room so seniors can exercise, and the building is connected to the Hartselle Civic Center, allowing people to walk in the civic center gym at any time.
If seniors choose not to participate in any activities, they can simply socialize with their peers. According to center manager Steve Griffin, the environment of togetherness and comfort the senior center fosters can help the seniors combat loneliness. “A lot of seniors are alone. Some of them don’t have any family left,” Griffin said. “This is a big extended family.”
Griffin has worked as the manager of the senior center for almost 15 years. When he first assumed the manager role, his intentions were for the job to be temporary; however, he said his passion for helping the elderly drove him to remain in the position.
“I was going to do it for two weeks until they found somebody; that was almost 15 years ago, but I love it,” Griffin said. “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Griffin’s responsibilities as manager put his passion for helping others to good use. Though his position requires him to complete a great amount of paperwork, it also requires that he spend quality time with the seniors. “Let’s say only three Canasta players show up; it is my job to fill in and go play Canasta with them,” Griffin said. “I have to oversee and make sure everyone’s having a good time.”
Volunteers also play a large role in assisting the seniors and ensuring they are enjoying themselves. The senior center serves a daily lunch – provided by the North Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments. “We serve, during regular times, about 35 meals a day. About 13 or 14 of those meals are homebound,” Griffin said. Homebound meals are delivered to those who are limited to their homes because of medical conditions or to those who do not have access to food. One of the responsibilities of volunteers is to deliver these homebound meals.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the senior center closed down in March. Griffin said seniors’ increased susceptibility to the virus, and the need for close proximity in the senior center, mean it will be one of the last businesses to reopen. “We’ll be the very last to reopen because we cannot social distance. I can’t throw you a card across the room,” Griffin said.
In spite of the pandemic, two volunteers – Brenda Bartholomew and Brenda Hilton – still offer their services to the senior center every day.
Bartholomew has been volunteering at the senior center for almost six years. She previously lived in Decatur and served food at the Decatur Senior Center. She said after moving to Hartselle she had no intention of volunteering at another senior center; however, she was invited to visit the senior center following her move, and she quickly became devoted to it.
“I met some really good people and made some good friends,” Bartholomew said.
Hilton’s love of volunteering stems from the simple happiness she feels when helping others. “It brings me joy,” Hilton said.
The center’s lasting impact on Hartselle’s elderly community is exemplified by the seniors’ eagerness for it to reopen. “I have them call me every day asking, ‘When are we going to open back up?’ And I can’t really give them an answer on that,” Griffin said. “They miss being with each other. They miss seeing their friends.”
To become a member of the senior center, senior citizens can simply visit or call the senior center. A donation of $1.25 is requested to pay for lunch, but no payment is required to become a member. Other people can get involved by volunteering. “Volunteering gives a purpose,” Griffin said. “Everybody needs a purpose.”