Centennial Senior Center in Concord, N.H., grows again with Good Life Programs & Activities
Pat Miniutti, right and her sister-in-law Nancy Miniutti, second from right, laugh as they try reposition themselves while they were working on a push hands training routine during a tai chi class at the Centennial Center in Concord on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Jim Mills, left, and Bernadette McNichols were also in the class. The Centennial Center is being renamed Good Life Programs and has expanded its membership from about 60 to almost 1000 in the past year.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
From left: Rita Pelland, Cecile Soucy and Irene Bourbeau work on their art pieces in their pastel art class at the Centennial Center in Concord on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The Centennial Center is being renamed Good Life Programs and has expanded its membership from about 60 to almost 1000 in the past year.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
For Joanne Magarian, her retirement in November meant she could do the things she never had time for when she was working at the Department of Education.
Now, she takes oil pastel classes and meets with new friends.
And this past year has also been a rebirth for the organization hosting many of those activities.
GoodLife Programs & Activities at Centennial Senior Center moved into a bright, sunny location on North State Street last April, after spending several years recovering from nearly closing down under financial duress.
Over the past year, the center has gone from about 60 active participants to nearly 1,000, said Executive Director Vivian Green.
The old space was one room in the West Street Ward House, where the center could offer programming on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There wasn’t any parking, and the building wasn’t easily accessible for members with disabilities.
“It wasn’t a welcoming environment, which is what I really wanted,” Green said.
The new building is a considerable downgrade from the 22,000-square-foot site on Regional Drive the center built in 2003, and sold in 2006.
Besides taking on a $4.2 million construction cost, the center was tied to one location and couldn’t go into the community to offer programs for people who couldn’t or didn’t want to come to Concord, said Green, who has been with the center since 2011.
“We didn’t want to repeat that mistake, and we wanted to have and maintain that flexibility and adaptability. Investing in bricks and mortar would restrict us to that one
space. We wanted to be able to grow, but we’re not going to necessarily get everyone to go to a place. Some people, we’re going to have to go to them,” she said.
The staff – Green, an administrative assistant and a program coordinator – also solicit feedback from participants and create programming Monday through Friday based on their interests and requests, like the abstract pattern drawing style Zentangle.
“I think some of the things that happened with the past closing, there wasn’t enough communication with the seniors who were members of that organization. When it closed there were a lot of bad feelings because it was a shock,” Green said.
After several years sharing space with the city Parks and Recreation Department in the West Street Ward House, and only being able to offer programs twice a week, staff and board members gathered input from focus groups of members, creating a priority list of what an ideal location would feature: sunny social spaces, free parking, one accessible floor and room for a fireplace.
About two years later, they found space to lease in the Smokestack Center on North State Street. The space had potential, but it needed remodeling.
They installed new windows, a kitchen and a cozy sitting area just inside the front door, complete with a fireplace.
Since May 1, more than 560 seniors have attended events ranging from oil pastel classes and tai chi to tax assistance from an AARP volunteer.
The mailing list is up to more than 1,000 names, Green said.
“My goal was by the end of the fiscal year to match the number of people in the database from the old Centennial, which was about 1,600. I don’t know if I’m going to make it or not, but I’m still trying,” she said.
For many of the new members, the space is secondary to the programming – and the friends they’ve made – they said.
Pat McClintock retired about eight months ago. She takes fitness classes and oil pastel drawing classes, and while she thinks she could learn to do either on her own, she likes having the opportunity to get out and about.
“You just can’t underestimate the social aspect of this,” she said. “We care about each other. We notice if someone isn’t here.”
Will Ashworth of Hooksett, who served on the committee that evaluated sites for the new center, said seniors may need a little prodding, but getting involved in group activities is key to enjoying retirement.
“If you just sit all day, it’s not going to be a very long life,” he said.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)