PROFILE 2023: New name, new location, same mission

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 25, 2023

Lawrence County Senior Center continues to serve

ROME TOWNSHIP — In December, just days shy of Christmas, a ribbon cutting took place on the new Lawrence County Senior Center.

Darlene Green is the director and Freddie Hayes Jr. serves as coordinator for the Lawrence County Senior Center in Rome Township. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

“It’s a great day for Lawrence County,” then-County Commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. said of the event.

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It marked a long journey for the members and, to understand that, one needs to know the story of its director, Darlene Green.

Several years ago, Green had ended her tenure working at the Lawrence County CAO in Ironton and, in her newfound free time, she said, “I was bored.”

She said she saw a need for seniors in the eastern end of the county who resided too far away from the Ironton Senior Center to take part in it.

Though there was a shuttle bus to the location, she said it was too difficult for many to make the trip.

“So we started meeting at Ponderosa in the winter,” she said of the group she assembled, who also began to meet in homes, when not at the restaurant.

“But it still wasn’t enough,” she said.

She approached Hayes, when he was first running for the county commission in 2010.

“I told him ‘I would like to open a senior center, but we don’t have any money,” she said.

Following his election, Hayes, along with Commissioner Bill Pratt, took up her cause.

The new Lawrence County Senior Center opened in December 2022. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

Green said the county offered them two sites, one in an existing building at the county fairgrounds, and another in a modular unit trailer, located next to the Chesapeake Community Center.

Green said they went with the Chesapeake location, in part due to it being centrally located for those in South Point, Proctorville and Chesapeake who they hoped to serve.

They opened in 2014 as the Sybene-Chesapeake Senior Center and quickly proved by be a popular draw.

Hosting regular meals and events such as Bible study, trips to locations such as the Amish Country, cooking lessons, holiday celebrations and more, the trailer was often packed during its hours of operation.

In fact, their monthly Our Day luncheon became so popular, it outgrew the facility and they had to begin hosting it at First Baptist Church in Proctorville to take advantage of the larger space. The popular events regular brought in hundreds, featured entertainment and drew crowds outside of their regular membership, including regular visits from area leaders.

With the limited space, Green and the seniors on her board began talking to officials about the need for a larger facility.

The county commissioners, along with State Rep. Ryan Smith, whose district covered most of Lawrence County, took their case to Columbus and, in 2017, they were able to secure $1 million in funding from the General Assembly for construction of a brand new facility at the county fairgrounds.

Once the funds were secured, there had to be an administrative process before construction began, but then a further wait came about in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began and slowed things down further.

“A lot of people didn’t think it would be built,” Hayes recalled at the ribbon cutting, describing the process leading to the building as a “12-year project.”

The pandemic also hit the senior center hard, forcing them to close, along with most places, during the initial shutdowns in spring 2020. While senior centers in the state were eventually permitted to reopen, Green chose to remain closed, due to the small size of the trailer they were using making social distancing difficult, if not impossible.

She said they also lost several members to the virus. During the closings, she did her best to keep their community connected, regularly calling members and using the center’s social media page to allow them to give updates on their lives and post photos of hobbies and projects they took part in during the closure. They also hosted drive-thru events, giving away things such as gift baskets to members.

After a long wait and the arrival of vaccines, the center was finally able to reopen in Chesapeake and even resume their monthly luncheons at First Baptist Church.

And, in summer of 2022, the red tape and paperwork came to an end and a groundbreaking took place for the new building at the fairgrounds. Once it began, construction went by quickly and the seniors were able to begin using the facility for some events in November, in anticipation of the grand opening.

With a seating capacity of 200, the building, which features restrooms and a large porch is located across from Proctor’s Landing Senior Apartments, as well as the Wyngate at RiversEdge senior living community.

Hayes, who after his term as commissioner ended in December, joined Green and will serve as coordinator for the facility. He said is open to all of the county’s residents, not just those from its eastern end,

“We are so blessed to have Freddie,” Green said, stating he has been key to their success.

The large space of the new building allows them to host larger events and, in January, they moved their monthly dinners from the church to their new home.

In January, Green said they were able to use their new building to launch something they could not do at their old facility — a line dancing class.

“We had about 70 people here,” she said of the first day, which also included bingo as a draw. “It was a big crowd.”

The class will meet each Friday.

Green said other plans are to start a senior choir and they are currently looking for a director for that. She said they are also looking into doing exercise classes.

“We want to have things for some of our younger seniors,” she said.

Green said the center has about 45 regular members who come to events and they hope to grow that.

Green said she “can’t put into words” how happy she and the members are about the new building.

“Every time I walk through that door, I know we are blessed,” she said. “The seniors can spread out. We can do new things. Everybody’s tickled with what we’ve got. We prayed for this. Thank you, Lord.”

For Green, building the community and getting to know them has been one of her biggest pleasures in her role.

“It’s like talking to your mother or your grandmother every day,” she said. “All of the seniors, I know some part of their families. I know their children. I know their pets. And we’re really like a family here.”