One of Carbondale’s best kept secrets is its senior center. And Diane Johnson, director of the all-volunteer Senior Matters and host of the eponymous radio show on KDNK, would like to see that change.
Johnson, 71, says there are those who think a senior center in Carbondale is unnecessary, that local seniors have plenty to do. But, she added, there is also an underserved senior population that needs a little push to get out of the house and a place to go to meet social needs. “We’re not trying to gear for low- or high-income seniors,” she explained. “We’re presenting diverse social and educational programs.”
Since the center’s founding in 2008, programs have included art, acting and computer classes, a smartphone photography class, a caregiver’s support group, health and wellness clinic, book club, Bridge club, tax assistance and the popular Zingers singing group.
“We currently have two Tai Chi classes,” said Bill Dunn, Senior Matters board president. “And we just concluded eight weeks of a Matter of Balance.” Dunn, 73, said physical balance is important for seniors. “Eighty percent of falls for seniors wind up in the hospital,” he explained. “That’s why we offer Tai Chi. It’s good for balance and equilibrium.”
Senior Matters was the brainchild of the late Virginia “gina” Sterrett, who hosted the Senior Matters radio show, beginning in 2006. Her mission was to encourage independent, healthy living for seniors and to develop a nonprofit senior center. In 2007, she organized the center’s first fundraiser. “It was the first Bareback Bonanza at the Carbondale rodeo grounds,” said Johnson.
Carbondale residents Jean Owen and Anita Witt helped promote the event, which featured local musicians Twirp Anderson, Cash Cashman, John Sommers and Randy Utterback plus food from the Buffalo Valley restaurant. Cowgirl Witt was the MC. “It was a group with a passion to do a specific thing that our community needed,” said Johnson. “We raised $22,000.” Owen was also Senior Matters’ executive director for the first two years.
Then, in 2008, the town of Carbondale helped the center get its nonprofit status. And when a room came open at the Third Street Center, Sterrett’s classmates from the 1948 graduating class of Carbondale Union High School (now Bridges High School) donated $700 for a deposit on the space. “That was the beginning,” said Johnson.
The mission hasn’t changed much over the past six years. A banner with the phrase, “to foster diverse educational and social programs for seniors of all ages” in bold print is posted on the center’s bulletin board. “We have that in big letters because I can’t remember it,” said Dunn with a laugh.
He said he emphasizes “seniors of all ages” mainly for the Tai Chi classes to attract younger participants. But the programs are not just for seniors. “If other people want to come, they can,” he said, adding that promoting a healthy, active lifestyle for seniors, both physically and mentally, is what keeps him involved with the center.
“It’s a place to put the energy and creativity that we used to put into our jobs,” he said, recalling a Jan. 3 article in the Post Independent that featured 102-year old skier Julian Vogt. “That’s how you achieve longevity by being mentally and physically active.”
Johnson agrees but said the center’s programs could use more participants. Senior Matters volunteers serve SnoCones at the Wild West Rodeo and other summer events around town but winter can be slow. She encourages people of all ages to come in and offer a class or educational event. “Our main goal is to develop a larger group of volunteers and a larger board,” she explained. “Every new person brings in a new perspective and new ideas.”
Beginning this week, Senior Matters volunteers will help out every Wednesday at the Near New Store in downtown Carbondale, operated by the Seven Stars Rebekah Lodge #91. Johnson believes it’s a good way to make connections in the community while raising funds. “[Senior Matters] will get a percentage of Wednesday sales,” she said.
Johnson and Dunn would like to see Bingo or other game nights as well as speakers and new classes fill up the Senior Matters room. “The center provides a sense of community for the growing senior community in Carbondale and the whole valley,” said Dunn.
Diane Johnson hosts Senior Matters from 4:30-5 p.m. the second Tuesday of every month on KDNK Community Radio. For more information or to volunteer, contact Mildred Alsdorf at 945-7094 or Diane Johnson at 306-2587.