Natchez Senior Center draws hundreds to its diverse programs

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

Clyde Jackson called out the number, a lusty authority in his voice, &uot;N forty-four.&uot;

He paused as bingo players scanned groups of cards lying on the table before them. He looked over his own cards, as well.

Serious fun was under way at the Natchez Senior Citizens Center, only one of many activities happening at once in the busy building at the corner of Martin Luther King and Washington streets.

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&uot;Give me something under the O,&uot; a player sitting next to Jackson said. Friendly bantering continued.

&uot;You want me to cheat, don’t you,&uot; Jackson quipped, turning the basket and pulling out another number.

Jackson, in his 80s, has been a regular at the center for many years. Working in the Copiah-Lincoln Community College Senior Aide program, he supervises the daily bingo and picks up a few extra dollars to supplement his income.

The center teems with life and with love, filled with people whose experiences reflect a community’s story across nearly a century. Some are younger, healthier, wealthier; others are aging less well, fighting diseases that often plague the elderly and struggling to make ends meet at home.

Some come to the center for the regular exercise programs, including water aerobics in the indoor pool. Others come only for the ceramics classes or for an occasional game of dominoes.

Some are in and out, leaving the center after a chosen activity to pursue busy lives with friends and families, children and grandchildren, bridge clubs and book clubs.

Others arrive at the center when the doors open and remain until the programs end. The center has become central to their lives, said Sabrena Bartley, director.

&uot;This is really the city’s arm of the community that embraces these people who have needs,&uot; Bartley said. &uot;The Natchez Senior Center is a focal point for the aged in Adams County. Think of the sheer number of individuals that walk through our door and the options they have, ways to ease loneliness and promote socialization.&uot;

Indeed, in all corners of the center, activities bring people together, prompting quiet talk, such as among the ceramics artists, and hearty joshing between two men at the pool table.

One of the liveliest groups on a recent Friday was in the adult daycare section, where about 35 had gathered for a birthday celebration and a lunch that included fried chicken.

Daycare is special, supervised care for the aging participants who fit particular criteria, said Margaret Harveston of the center staff. &uot;It’s based on age, transportation needs, their living environment, speech or hearing problems, ambulatory status, mental status, among other things,&uot; she said. &uot;They can come for help in paying their bills. We can call in their medicines. If they need to get groceries, they are taken.&uot;

Aromas from the serving table began to draw senior center participants away from their activities half an hour before serving time.

For some, this is an important time of day at the center, giving them perhaps the only hot meal they will eat that day.

And it is a time full of sharing and showing affection. Harveston turned to John McIntyre, 62, a regular who likes to play dominoes. &uot;John is always helping out,&uot; she said. &uot;He wheels the meals out when we’re getting ready for the home deliveries. He helps to feed anyone who needs help. He always has a smile.&uot;

Disabled by a heart attack in 1988 and now also a diabetic, McIntyre finds the senior center a good place to be with other people and to lend a hand when it’s needed.

Volunteers like McIntyre are everywhere. Julia Griffin, 73, drove a school bus for the Natchez-Adams County public schools for 34 years. &uot;I loved my children. When this job came open, I took it because I love people. I came to do it for two years and I’ve been here four,&uot; Griffin said, motioning toward the room full of adult daycare men and women in her charge.

Ella Ellis, 80, retired from domestic work, enjoys the ceramics room. She has been volunteering at the center for 18 years. &uot;It’s my home away from home,&uot; she said. &uot;I’ve worked on the serving line, helped with daycare and anywhere else I’m needed.&uot;

The men and women who come regularly to the senior center are an inspiration to Edwina Petersen of the center’s staff. &uot;Life goes on. It’s reaffirming when I see that people are continuing to live even through the changes they have to face.&uot;