Seniors living it up at Durham Center

By Clinton Centry
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

The Durham Center for Senior Life could hardly be called a place for seniors to rest. The engaging establishment located at the Rigsbee and Seminary Streets in downtown Durham, offers full days of activities and programs as well as fellowship and camaraderie for folks in Durham who are 55 and older.

Frank Harrison shows off his puzzle prowess at the Durham Center for Senior Life. (Staff photo by Clinton Centry)

When entering the first level, you will find groups playing cards or dominoes or chatting about life and politics. If not there, seniors may be in any one of the adjoining rooms offering instruction in yoga, belly dancing, and aerobics or just working out on any one of the machines provided in the fitness room.

Unlike gyms which require monthly membership fees for activities, Senior Life only requires its members to meet the age requirement.  Each member is given a card which is electronically scanned at the reception desk on the second level.  Then, all activities become open and available.

The gaming area has a ping pong table and Nintendo Wii, and basketball hoops for those with that extra bit of energy to burn up.

The center hosts talks and workshops regularly. Before election day, both incumbent David Price and candidate B.J. Lawson came to make their appeals to seniors.

Seniors who just want to kick back and have a relaxing day at the center may spend time in the theater room, where they can watch a good movie with friends, or they may opt to learn or perfect their knitting and crocheting skills in instructor-led classes.  An internet café allows people to stay in contact with friends and family as they surf the web.

Durham seniors who utilize the DCSL – and those who don’t – can obtain help with their medications and preventive health needs from Senior PharmAssist, an independent nonprofit located as a tenant in the Center. Senior PharmAssist helps Durham County residents 60 and older remain as healthy and independent as possible by focusing on user-friendly access to needed medicines; safe, effective medication use; one-on-one counseling regarding Medicare drug and health coverage; and tailored community referral. The program has served the Durham community since 1994 and schedules appointments by phone (688-4772), though visitors to the DCSL are welcomed to drop by to pick up information.

In addition to the center’s programs and activities, its secondary function is that of social services outsourcing and coordination.

“We really utilize volunteers,” says Danielle Irwin, Development and Volunteer Coordinator.  There are designated spaces filled with items like fans, air conditioning units, food, and hygiene products, donated by members of the community.

Mary Lee Jones-Elliott enjoys a sunny fall day outside the Durham Center for Senior Life. (Staff photo by Clinton Centry)

These community citizens may also volunteer personal time at Senior Life in the telephone reassurance center, where they place calls to the homes of regular members to make sure they’re doing well.  Additionally, seniors call in from time to time with questions and concerns about medications, financial assistance, or disability.

“The center is federally funded,” says Jerry Hemphill, Social Services Coordinator.  “We [can] assist with utilities once members present their driver’s license, along with a disconnect notice.  They pay the first $100, and afterwards we will call the organization to make an additional pledge of $100 towards rent, water or electricity, but not cable.”

Mary Lee Jones-Elliott, 90 years young, is one of the center “celebrities” or regulars and long-time resident of the Durham area.  She is a living database of the history and changes Durham has gone through.  She has witnessed so much in her time and has the pictures to prove it.  Jones-Elliott or “Ms. Mary” was featured in “The Seasoned Citizen,” the center’s quarterly newsletter, as an outstanding volunteer.

“I have been coming to the center for about four years,” says Jones-Elliott.  “There are a lot of activities, but I’m not involved in all of them. I play some of the games, and am part of the arts and crafts class.”

“Oh, Ms. Mary loves to dance!” says Barbara Allgood, staff receptionist.  “Don’t let there be music playing, because Ms. Mary can get down.”

And she can.

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