2006-08-02 / Front Page

Senior Center, LLI could merge

Partnership would create more opportunities for seniors
By Susan Nienow

Dokcha Hong, Katherine Clark and Helen Matthews share a quiet moment during a "Joy of Healing" class at the Lifelong Learning Institute. Dokcha Hong, Katherine Clark and Helen Matthews share a quiet moment during a "Joy of Healing" class at the Lifelong Learning Institute. Members from the Chesterfield location of the now defunct Senior Center of Richmond may soon find a new home in the county by merging with the Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI). Through the partnership with the LLI, former senior center members could enjoy their activities at a new location at the Watkins Annex, located near Sycamore Square, by the end of summer, said Debbie Leidheiser, LLI's executive director.

The senior center's Chesterfield and Richmond locations were forced to close earlier this summer due to financial difficulties, despite frantic fundraising efforts to keep them open.

A steering committee will take its merger proposal to the LLI board on August 7 and to senior center members on August 15.

"It's an opportunity for both [groups]. They have similar missions," explained Diane Peterson, Chesterfield senior advocate. "Everyone is committed to having a continuing senior center."

The merger would give both LLI members and those from the senior center access to activities and academic classes, increasing the offerings for both, explained Leidheiser.

When news came that the senior center, with locations at Monument Avenue and Huguenot Road, was closing its doors, members initially reacted with shock and anger.

Then they got busy, said Annebel Lewis, steering committee member. "All of them have stepped up to the plate to make sure the programs are continued," said Lewis.

The Chesterfield branch of the Senior Center had 235 members.

After several organizational meetings, the seniors found temporary locations for their activities through August. The bingo players and fitness groups are meeting at Outlook Pointe, the Spanish class at Barnes and Noble, the bridge players at Robious Sports and Fitness and the book club in members' homes, said Vikki Fleming, former activities director for the senior center.

Losing the center has been "traumatic" for these seniors, said Lewis. "They felt the board [that] oversaw the senior center had abandoned them," Lewis continued. "All of them have stepped up to the plate and are helping."

LLI is a partner with Brandermill Woods Retirement Community, Chesterfield County Public Schools and the Virginia Center on Aging. Affiliated with Elderhostel, LLI offers classes for seniors taught by volunteers. Most classes are offered at the Watkins Annex, which has plenty of classrooms for senior center activities, said Leidheiser.

The county provides the building at no cost to the LLI while volunteers have painted, landscaped and installed bookshelves there.

LLI charges seniors a $150 fee for access to unlimited classes. The senior center has been charging $85 for its yearly membership.

Lewis said that some seniors can't afford the $150 fee. Leidheiser acknowledged that would have to be worked out.

Senior center members have already been invited to sit in on LLI classes this summer.

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