CENTERBURG -- Lisa Wilson found herself back at the school again on Sunday afternoon, 25 years after walking the halls of Centerburg’s old high school as a student.
She was bouncing back and forth between two rooms, greeting the community’s older citizens as they visited the Centerburg Senior Services’ open house. She shook hands, passed out flyers and advertised all the services that the organization, which she now leads, offers.
Just over a month into her new job as the director of services, she is fulfilling a passion that has festered inside of her since her grandmother went into a nursing home eight years ago.
“I just saw how they can so easily get neglected,” Wilson said of the elderly. “And it broke my heart.”
After her grandmother’s death three-and-a-half years ago, Wilson struggled to find ways to give back to the senior community. When the opportunity arose, she left a job of 15 years at SBC Solutions Group (one that she said she was “very good at”) to take over at Centerburg Senior Services on May 1.
“I knew that’s not where I wanted to finish,” Wilson said. “I wanted to do something that was going to be rewarding and I could not think of a more rewarding job than this.”
Wilson headlines new leadership that is coming into the organization, as she works alongside assistant Bonnie Rutherford and business manager Crystal McElhaney. The purpose of Sunday’s open house was to meet the community and display all that the center has to offer for those 60 and older.
“There are a lot of people in Centerburg that don’t realize that this place is even here,” Wilson said. “I’m trying to do the open house to advertise that we are here and you’re welcome in. A lot of the equipment in this room would benefit a lot of people, but people don’t know it’s here.
"The open house is going to allow people to know that it’s here, along with the other activities that we do.”
While Centerburg Senior Services has operated out of the old high school for the last eight years, the organization’s board recently cleaned up its two rooms in the school so that it could utilize exercise equipment donated by Curves and make more room for activities like bingo and cards in the old band room.
“We basically had a change in the people that were running the thing, we just brought on some new people,” trustee and board member Terry Bumpus said. “So we thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to do that, we might as well just clean this thing out a little bit -- not really start over, but just kind of give it a new makeover.’ And as you can tell, I think it makes a big difference.”
As seniors filed into the building on Sunday, they were made aware of Zumba classes that would be starting in the middle of June, as well as weekly craft sessions. Centerburg Senior Services also takes part in Meals on Wheels, providing 45 households in Centerburg and three surrounding townships each day with a warm, free meal.
But the biggest hit on a weekly basis is bingo night, which occurs every Thursday. And it’s not even close.
“You’ve got some activities that will bring in five people, you’ve got some activities that bring in a dozen. And then you have bingo day,” Wilson said, laughing. “That can bring in anywhere from 27 to 42.
"That’s once a week, and I don’t know if I could handle more than once a week. Because I’ll tell you what, I’m 43 years old and I’m worn out.”
Behind all of the activities that Centerburg Senior Services offers, however, is the idea that getting the elderly out of their homes is instrumental to their well-being.
“I think that’s probably the most important thing,” Wilson said. “It ranks very high.”
“Since we’ve rented this facility, we’re trying to do more things for seniors that are socially interactive,” Bumpus added. “It allows them to come in and have a space, maybe just to get out of the house if nothing else. A lot of seniors tend to want to hole up in their homes, and this gets them out and gets them more active.”
Amid the hustle and bustle of the open house, 87-year-old Jean Hendrickson sat at one of the long tables in the old band room and ate a pastry, provided by locally owned Kristi’s Bakery.
She beamed about the opportunities that the organization provides.
“This is an excellent thing for the community, and I think it benefits more areas than we know outside of our community as well,” Hendrickson said. “It’s a source that we really should have because it brings people together and keeps us active.”
On Sunday, elderly community members chatted over dessert and recalled going to school in that very building. They met Wilson, McElhaney and the rest of the Centerburg Senior Services’ staff, who plan on being their best friends.
“I would love to be that person’s granddaughter or daughter, that you know, they don’t get to see every day on a normal basis,” Wilson said. “They can count on me to be there Monday through Friday for them, or on the weekend if they have an emergency, they can call me. I just want to help them.”
Bumpus, who has served as a trustee for the last 15 years, said that the organization was “tickled to death” by the turnout at Sunday’s open house. He was also excited about Wilson’s passion for her new job.
“We think Lisa’s going to do a wonderful job,” Bumpus said. “She really has a heart and a passion for this and I think in the next year or so, we’ll see some big changes.”
Even after her grandmother passed away, Wilson would continue to go into her nursing home and visit with the friends she made there. She felt like she needed to be there.
Just over a month after starting at Centerburg Senior Services, she already feels that connection with the local elderly community.
“The people that are coming in, I already feel like they’ve become my family,” Wilson said. “You know what, maybe I’m filling a void for them or they’re filling a void for me. I don’t know.”