What’s a 60-plus senior to do when there’s nothing to do? At the Hammond Street Senior Center, there are so many choices that its members don’t have time to get bored.
Having just celebrated its 13th birthday, this free-membership organization is a senior-activity hub for the greater Bangor area. Some members come to play cards or cribbage. Others take painting or pottery classes. Some enjoy sewing, ping pong, pool, or computer classes. Many enjoy the fitness center. Still others pay a few bucks for classes on everything from yoga to tai chi. And some just come to read a book, socialize with new friends and old, or just hang out — maybe once a month, maybe every day.
The 2,500 members know the center’s importance. Virginia Greene first came a few years ago on recommendation from a friend who was concerned Virginia would never get out and do anything.
“She was right,” Virginia admitted. “I can always find something to do at home, but it doesn’t give you the chance to really interact with other people.”
She was quickly hooked by the center,and comes from Old Town at least three times a week, usually to paint and to volunteer her cooking skills on meal days.
“It’s one of the best things that has really come across my path,” she said.
The Hammond Street Senior Center was founded in the old Merrill Bank building in 1999 by John and Elaine Couri of Connecticut, who had Bangor ties and saw a need for a seniors’ place. Early last year, the Couris, who had shouldered the financial burden, gifted the building to the members. The center must now seek donations, organize fundraisers, and find grant money to keep operating.
According to Marketing and Communications Director Mary Collins, all options are on the table, including asking the members’ hometowns for support. Unfortunately, that hasn’t paid off, probably because most people don’t understand just what the Hammond Street Senior Center is.
“Unless you come into the building and see just how beneficial it is to the seniors, people don’t really know,” Collins said. “I call it a treasure that shouldn’t hidden.”
It was really hidden from 93-year-old George Fricke, who had been living alone in Milo for several years. He was quite isolated, and there wasn’t much going in Milo. He had also endured some medical challenges that “almost put me out of business,” he said.
Last October, he moved to Glenburn to live with his daughter and her husband, and he began coming to the Center regularly.
“I’m doing a little painting after many, many years of dropping it,” George said. “And, little by little, getting into other things… I’m enjoying it.”
When George’s daughter Marianne and her husband, Larry Lussier, first came to the Center several years ago, they knew it would be great for George.
“It’s been a tremendous resource, and it’s been really good for George as far as being able to socialize,” Larry said. “It’s helped him come back all around.”
Larry said that lack of social contact is a key problem for elders, and being part of the Center helps with that.
“Probably the hardest thing is to get people in here to see what’s available,” Larry said. “Once they do start participating and find the broad range of interests here, they’re more likely to get more involved.”
Six-year-member Miles Grindle couldn’t agree more; he loves having so many senior resources under one roof. And he’s a big fan of working out in the center’s on-site gym, which is extremely popular with members and very low-cost.
“It’s a wonderful facility,” he said. “You have a structured setup with total flexibility for the people that use the facility. It’s amazing. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
The biggest challenge is keeping the place open and memberships free. But ultimately it’s the members who support it financially.
For example, the Hammond Street Senior Center solicits donations from them every year, and they contribute in other ways. And there are many events, such as the annual used-book sale, pie sale, and Basket Case event. The members donate the books, bake the pies, and make the baskets. They’re also the ones who, along with community supporters, buy them.
And last year, members put on their first play, which sold out all shows for three days, with revenues supporting the center. Another play is on tap for this year.
Then there’s Aunt Nellie’s volunteer-run resale shop on Route 1A in Holden. All profits go to the Hammond Street Senior Center, and guess where the merchandise comes from? It’s donated by center members and community residents.
And, of course, there are the extremely popular Hearty Lunches every week. Member volunteers prepare the healthy meals, which always sell out at just $6. You can’t eat a healthy meal out for that.
“Health is a big thing here: health physically, mentally, and socially,” said Collins.
The Hammond Street Senior Center needs to increase its community awareness and secure more members. But how do center members convince parents and grandparents to check the place out?
“Grab ‘em by the arm and show ‘em what it’s all about,” said George Fricke. “I think that’s the way.”
To learn more or join for free, visit www.hammondstreet.org, call 262-5532, or stop in and visit at 2 Hammond Street in downtown Bangor.