White Birch Center in Henniker is the place for seniors

  • Claudia Roberts, left, Marie Jones and Ruth Zax enjoy a game of Mah Jongg at White Birch Center for Active Living. TIM GOODWIN / Monitor staff—

  • Rita Murdough and Peggy Arney are regulars at the cribbage table on Friday afternoons at White Birch Center for Active Living in Henniker. TIM GOODWIN / Monitor staff—

  • Louise Cyr, left, Polly Mellin, Ginny Doherty and Deb Keiner are locked in a Mah Jongg battle during a recent Friday session at White Birch Center in Henniker. TIM GOODWIN / Monitor staff—

  • There is always a puzzle ongoing at White Birch Center for Active Living in Henniker for whoever wants to sit down and put in a few pieces. TIM GOODWIN / Monitor staff—

Monitor staff
Published: 4/22/2019 12:11:30 PM

It’s Friday afternoon at White Birch Center for Active Living, and Romie can hardly contain his excitement.

The 5-year-old pup of White Birch Active Living Director Beth Ann Paul loves people and the time between meet-ups is when he gets his most attention. And does he ever get plenty of it.

“If I don’t bring him, people ask where he is,” Paul said.

Despite it being late afternoon on a Friday, White Birch is bustling with Henniker seniors looking for some social time and a little game action.

The weekly cribbage meet-up, which is one of the most popular offerings at White Birch and consistently fills up all five tables in the activity room, had just ended and now its time for the Mah Jongg ladies to have a turn.

It’s the final program of the week, but something these seven ladies have been looking forward to all week.

“We come because it’s good friends,” said Louise Cyr. “This is a great place for people that came here to retire and want to get connected with the community.”

And that’s what Paul likes about the program she has been in charge of for the better part of the last seven years, first in a part-time capacity and now as the first full-time director – they have something for everyone.

“When I moved to town, White Birch is where I made friends,” said Claudia Roberts, who got the Mah Jongg group going. “I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

From July 1 through when the numbers were crunched for Town Meeting, 339 people participated in at least one program at White Birch Center for Active Living, and on average, there are more than 6,000 total participations each year.

There are the weekly staples like bridge and gentle yoga on Mondays, KnitWits on Wednesdays and Tai Chi on Fridays. Willing walkers meets in a nearby neighborhood with ideal conditions on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Bone Builders is offered four days a week.

“Bone Builders is an entry way into White Birch,” said White Birch Executive Director Marc McMurphy. “Once they’re in Bone Builders, they want to come to something else and next thing, they’re here all the time.”

Every Tuesday there is a movie, with Free Solo up this week at 1 p.m.

Once a month they host team trivia, and partner with the Concord Regional VNA for a health clinic on the third Wednesday. There’s a monthly senior lunch, which turns into a grill and chill during July and August.

“Every time we have a food event, I’m booked to the max,” Paul said.

And that’s just what’s happening at White Birch. Thanks to a pair of buses, Paul and McMurphy are always getting behind the wheel for another adventure.

This Thursday there’s a planned shopping trip to Nashua that includes stops at The Christmas Tree Shop and Trader Joe’s, as well as lunch.

In May, they will head to the Concord City Auditorium for a Community Players of Concord production of Something’s Afoot.

In June, it’s off to the Newport Flower Show in Rhode Island in conjunction with Banner Tours and Travel.

Every month the lunch bunch picks a new restaurant for some conversation and food.

Since the early 1980s the town has funded senior programming, and makes a substantial investment in White Birch each year in the budget – more than $62,000 for the coming year.

But with costs closer to $80,000 for active living, there is also a fundraising component. They are currently looking for recipes to be included in a cookbook set to be released later this year. On May 4, a Kentucky Derby party at Pats Peak will benefit White Birch.

“We find a way to make it all work,” McMurphy said.

They partner with Friends Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) for a dial-a-ride program that helps seniors get to medical appointments. More than 130 rides were given during that same July 1 to Town Meeting time frame.

“It’s amazing to me how many people need that service because something came up,” McMurphy said.

A week notice is preferred, but sometimes happen last minute.

“I can get the word out pretty quick, so it’s pretty rare we can’t accommodate,” Paul said.

Because in a small town like Henniker, there is no way to get around when you can’t drive.

“Transportation is a huge issue for seniors,” McMurphy said.

That’s why they’ve been known to pick up residents for trips or programs.

Over the last few years, the participation has grown significantly. McMurphy attributes that directly to Paul.

“It’s because she knows them and it’s organized in a way that’s suited for them,” McMurphy said.

But like with most programming geared toward those 55 and over, McMurphy sees some hesitation.

“One of the challenges is that people don’t see themselves as seniors,” he said. “People associate it with being old, but sometimes, it’s like being with a bunch of teenagers.”

For more, visit whitebirchcc.org/active-living.

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