Seniors want new center

ajames@newsobserver.comJanuary 24, 2014 

— Older adults in Clayton are launching a letter-writing campaign in support of a new senior center.

The 400-square-foot Clayton Center for Active Aging is easy to miss and challenging to find. Located at 303 Dairy Road, it shares space with the rental office for Village Garden Apartments, an apartment complex for seniors.

The small recreation room in the building is used also for lunch, computer classes and exercise, so the table and chairs have to be moved multiple times a day. Women in their 80s come for exercise, but lifting heavy tables is not what they signed up for.

“We are constantly taking down tables and putting up tables; this includes chairs also,” said one letter writer, Connie Putnam. “Many of the members are unable to do this, including myself. We need a larger facility.”

Another letter came from a couple who moved to Clayton a year ago from New England. “Once you have retired and moved out of your surroundings, it is hard to meet people,” they wrote. “You are no longer connected as you were when your kids were young and you worked. You are now living alone in your home. You look for as much as you can do that is not cost prohibitive.”

That letter came from Russel and Camille Mastrianni, who expressed their disappointment in discovering the lack of resources for seniors in Clayton. And they too mentioned having to constantly move tables and chairs.

The couple ended their letter on a sobering note: “If you are 45 years or older, you will be here in a blink of an eye. And as everyone knows, we all age. There is no stopping it.”

Options for seniors

Outside of the senior center, many older adults in Clayton take classes at the Clayton Community Center on Amelia Church Road. Offered by the Parks and Recreation Department, those classes range from acrylic painting to taekwondo.

Larry Bailey, director of Parks and Recreation, said he has tried to bring more offerings for seniors to Clayton. Last year, he introduced a new sport to town: pickleball. Similar to tennis but less physically demanding, it’s ideal for seniors.

Bailey plans to offer pickleball as a regular class and hopes many seniors will sign up.

Rebecca Freeman is director of community services for Johnston County Community and Senior Services. She said classes are just one aspect of the Clayton Center for Active Aging.

It’s biggest asset, she said, is that it’s a meeting place made specifically for seniors.

‘That’s what this is for’

After finishing their line-dancing class a few weeks ago, several women sat near the entrance to the center. They laughed, joked, debated politics and shared stories of their grandchildren. The center was closing for the day, but they weren’t ready to leave. They lingered until the building’s doors were locked and the lights were out.

“That’s what this is for,” said former program director Meredith Cassell.

The center is also an education hub, offering classes in understanding food stamps, handling tax forms, applying for benefits and managing insurance. On the nutrition side, it serves a daily meal and delivers meals to home-bound seniors.

In doing surveys at Johnston churches, businesses and American Legion halls, Freeman has found that many people think the county’s senior centers are nursing homes. It’s that misconception that keeps more older adults from coming, she said.

Each day, around 60 to 70 people come to the Clayton senior center. The center in neighboring Garner draws around 325 people each day.

“Every day it’s crazy trying to use the space we’ve got,” Freeman said. “We couldn’t do more even if we wanted to, and we do.”

The Clayton seniors plan to send their letters to town leaders and other elected officials.

“I can’t fault the town of Clayton for not building a senior center if older adults have never requested one,” Freeman said.

Now they plan to make their voices heard.

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