• 77°

Hartselle Senior Center reopens

After a year and three months of being shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hartselle Senior Center has reopened and is operating at 100 percent.

The patrons – who, according to manager Steve Griffin, are more like an extended family – were thrilled to return to their bingo, canasta games and, most importantly, their connections with those from which the COVID-19 pandemic had kept them isolated.

“People need people,” Lenora Yarbrough said. “We have invited people and told them about this place, and they told us later that they don’t know what would have happened if they had not come because they lost their spouse or were at home, alone and depressed with no one to talk to. They came up here and found purpose and friendship.”

Friends Shirley Austin and Melba Lindley are among locals who enjoy programs at the center.

“She’s hard to get along with, and I’m hard to get along with, so we get along great,” Shirley Austin said of her friend Melba Lindley, laughing. The pair play canasta every day with Yarbrough and Patricia Kaup at the senior center.

The friends persevered through the pandemic – even while the center was closed.

“We didn’t let it stop us,” Austin said. “We played cards at each other’s houses wearing masks.”

Sandra Partain visits the center every day with her mother, Dorothy, and the two play UNO with a group of friends at a large table at the back of the room.

“It’s nice to be back. We were wondering if it would ever happen,” she said. “We didn’t know what the new normal was going to be.”

Janice Harris and Margaret Mayfield play Dominos and Phase 10 together at the center as much as they are able.

“Not seeing anyone was hard,” Harris said. “I missed it. Me and Margaret, after we got our vaccines, I would go over to her house.”

“For three or four months, I didn’t get out of the house at all,” Mayfield, who lost her daughter to the coronavirus this past December, added.

Griffin said most of the seniors have returned now since its reopening. Nearing retirement age himself, Griffin has worked as the manager of the senior center for 16 years this September. He said he intends to continue working because his friends and family there are what kept him going through the pandemic.

“What they give to me, I could never give back to them,” Griffin said through tears.

In April 2020 when the pandemic closed most places of business, Griffin said he knew the senior center had to find a way to still serve the most vulnerable in Hartselle and Morgan County.

“We knew we had to get meals out, even if we weren’t open,” he said. “I have two angels who work here, Brenda Hilton and Brenda Bartholomew. I could not have done that without them.”

The trio, along with volunteers and staff of the Sparkman Civic Center, packaged 150 meals a week for homebound patrons of the center. They held drive-up lunches throughout the pandemic for those who were able to get out of their homes.

Hilton said she volunteers because the seniors have become her friends and family too.

For Griffin, it is a fantastic feeling to be back in full operation. “To see all these smiling faces and the fun that we have is what keeps me going,” he said. “They didn’t have that for a long time, and I didn’t have that with them.”

The Hartselle Senior Center is open to people at least 60 years old, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until noon, and is located at 406 Nance Ford Road.