Seniors want to see permanent, exclusive home for Shippensburg senior center
By AMBER SOUTH
“Let’s do it!”
These words sparked a standing ovation as they started Ann Hinkle’s quest toward getting Shippensburg’s senior center a permanent, exclusive home.As the director of Southampton Place, the senior center located in the multipurpose building at 56 Cleversburg Road for several hours every weekday since November 2006, Hinkle made it her responsibility to tell the 200-plus members and guests that use the center every week why “The Place” where they eat lunch every day and keep active with a large menu of activities would no longer be open to them, and to start a conversation on where the center should go from here.
Southampton (Cumberland County) Township supervisors recently decided to no longer sponsor the facility for use by the senior center, effective June 30. Supervisor Tom Ginnick said recently it was a “strictly financial” decision, and that the township paid about $25,000 more than it should have over the six years it sponsored the facility. A representative of the township was not present at the meeting.
Hinkle went through all the numbers, describing what goes into the center’s $67,000 budget and how much each municipality pays, to explain what could have led to the supervisors’ decision. Budget cuts are a significant factor, she said.
In the end, the general consensus among the seniors was that they are unwanted. Senior Dean Bartle, Shippensburg, said he feels he is working for the township, rather than the township officials working for him and his fellow citizens.
Ginnick had said that the township is more than willing to pay its fair share toward the center’s next location.
Hinkle wants that next location to be one that is the senior center’s own, one it pays for and can’t be forced to get out of.
That would cost money though that the senior center does not have, so Hinkle revved up the audience to share their ideas for making it happen. She shared that Big Spring’s senior center pays for a $20,000 shortfall every year with donations from the community. If Big Spring can do it, Shippensburg can, Hinkle said.
“You can spread the word about the need,” she said.
Members of the audience tossed around ideas for facilities in the Shippensburg borough and close to the borough. They also talked about finding a temporary home, but agreed it will be hard to find something within two months.
Emotions piled thick as Hinkle talked about the need for the senior center to continue.
“The Place is where it’s at!” she said.
With tears in her eyes and a crackle to her voice, Hinkle illustrated for guests her experience walking around the facility prior to the meeting. Despite the emptiness, she saw the seniors taking Tai Chi in the gymnasium area, playing cards in the social room, and sitting down for lunch in the filled, 120-seat dining room.
“I saw you guys. I saw every one of you,” she said.
The power of the senior center has been demonstrated in the six years it has been Southampton Place, Hinkle said. There were only 50 members when the center ended its 30-year stint in a Fayette Street building in Shippensburg borough, and now more than 200 members and guests eat 10,000 meals a year and have helped create 16,000 activities.
These activities are what make the senior center thrive, according to Pierre and Sassy Turchi. They hope people can see around the misconception that senior centers are where “seniors twiddle their thumbs in front of the tube,” he said.
On one of her many trips around the room during the meeting, Hinkle stopped by the Turchis’ table to recite a letter they had written about the senior center issue. As a doctor, Pierre had stated that senior centers lead to less illness and depression because they provide a place for seniors to stay active through a variety of activities and facilitate near-instant companionship.
Judy Stevens, Shippensburg borough, centers her week around senior center activities. As a second-time recent retiree, she said the activities helped her get back into the “swing of things.”
“We need it,” she said about the senior center.
Stevens also takes part in Steppin’ Sneakers, an aerobics program she helped bring to the senior center with the help of friend Karen Boutcher, South Newton Township. Now, it’s one of the most popular programs along with Tai Chi, which participants said helps with balance.They fortunately have the option to attend the senior center together, but Lois and Walt Dudiak said the center is often vital for seniors who have lost their partners and friends.
Dave Miller, deputy director of the Cumberland County Office on Aging, said there are many people in the community willing to help the seniors keep their gathering place. The key, he said, is finding the right combination of people and money.
Hinkle told attendees that she will donate the first $10,000 toward fundraising efforts for a permament facility. Citing personal losses that members helped her overcome, she tossed immediate calls for her to change her mind to the side.
“You’ve been there for me, I will be there for you.”
Amber South can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 262-4771.