Senior Center supports elders, improves lives
Eleanor Yarkin, Reporter
From serving hot lunches to taking group trips to Costco, the Vashon Senior Center provides a vital network of services to the island’s senior residents in an organization designed to keep Vashon’s elderly community happy and healthy.
The Vashon Senior Center (VSC) is located on Bank Road, next to the fire station, providing an easily accessible and central location. Senior citizens regularly attend classes and events, socialize, run errands, or get assistance from VSC staff and volunteers.
“[VSC] is a hybrid of a community center and a social services agency,” VSC executive director Catherine Swearingen said. “We offer fun classes, interesting lectures, [and] get people moving.”
VSC members are overwhelmingly appreciative of the group’s services.
“I do appreciate the very wide range of diversity that they offer,” VSC member Colleen Brooks said. “There’s really something there for everyone with a very wide range of ages.”
Included in the variety of services are instructional courses on topics that seniors typically struggle with, such as smartphone use and coping with low vision.
VSC also offers a program called Neighbor to Neighbor, which aims to make everyday life easier for elderly island residents. Volunteers run errands and coordinate requests for seniors anywhere on the island.
“This program provides all kinds of assistance to seniors: changing light bulbs, cutting the grass, trips to the grocery store, and transportation to Neighborcare,” Swearingen said.
In addition to assisting with daily tasks, VSC plays a large role in keeping the population of island seniors healthy.
The group serves hot lunches four days a week, typically feeding between 25 and 40 people per meal. The dishes are made on a tight budget with money from grants, donations, and fundraisers, but no one is turned away due to lack of funds.
“Congregate meals are a way to ensure good nutrition, combat isolation, and provide means for socialization,” Swearingen said.
Emphasis on health is also present in physical fitness, keeping seniors active through weekly zumba and tai chi classes.
“[Without VSC,] we would have more seniors looking for counseling or some way to interact or … that just don’t get out in the community and are confined to their homes,” Brooks said.
Brooks recalled a fellow VSC member stating that if not for the community and programs available at VSC, she would have been in a nursing home.
This level of support is heavily dependent upon the VSC staff, who ensure all programs run as smoothly as possible while continuing to support the island community.
“My day is filled with conversations, laughter, and the privilege of being part of a vibrant organization at its best,” Swearingen said. “I work with the most caring group of people who are the heart of the Senior Center.”
In addition to the staff, a large collection of volunteers help to support VSC and its members.
“[The volunteers] serve lunch, wash dishes, plan fundraising events and celebrations, collect data, teach classes, and participate in our activities,” Swearingen said. “I am extremely grateful for their dedication.”
Along with presentations every Friday and planned trips, VSC and their volunteers are currently focused on preparations for their next big event, March Madness Bingo, on March 23.
“This ain’t your grandmother’s bingo,” Swearingen said. “It’s a 21+ evening of fun, prizes, adult beverages, and costumes.”
It’s through events like this, as well as the group’s multitude of ongoing programs, that allow VSC to help keep Vashon’s elderly population comfortable, healthy, and happy.
“Most people say they want to grow old in their own homes,” Swearingen said. “Our goal is to help people do that for as long as feasible.”