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Center aims to link seniors to community

Tower Heights Apartment project includes lab, kitchen, wood shop

POSTED: January 5, 2014 12:05 a.m.

Area seniors living in government housing may soon have a new place to go for fellowship and life enrichment programs.

The Gainesville Housing Authority’s newest community center at its Tower Heights Apartments “is in the works” for use by senior residents. Many who live in the apartments are ages 55 and older.

Judith Escamilla, housing authority executive director, said she hopes to have the center open in the next 60 days.

The center has been vacant since May when The Guest House, an adult care center, was evicted by the authority. The nonprofit, which had occupied the building for the past 20 years, had been unable to renegotiate its lease since the old one expired in 2005. It had occupied the space rent-free. The center has since relocated to a building on Oak Street in Gainesville.

Broughton Cochran, chairman of the housing authority’s board of commissioners, said he regrets the negative misconceptions the eviction caused for the housing authority but he’s glad both organizations are now better able to serve their clients.

Cochran said there is a lot of excitement surrounding the community center and what it will mean for older residents.

The center will include a computer lab, living area, kitchen and a wood shop. The wood shop was built on site in 2001 by West Hall High School students for The Guest House, and used to promote hand-eye coordination for patients with dementia. As a part of the center, the shop will be provide residents with space to work on carpentry and gardening projects.

Additional office space will allow the center to serve as a remote location for the authority’s main office on Pearl Nix Parkway in Gainesville. The housing application process likely will be handled at the community center.

The center also will provide regular programs by guest speakers covering age-specific topics like health and nutrition counseling and financial advice for those on a fixed income.

Escamilla said the goal of offering enrichment programs will be to make senior residents from all housing locations more aware of community services. She said older residents sometimes don’t know they can reach out to community agencies for assistance or guidance. The center will not duplicate services agencies offer but will help “link” people to services.

Tower Heights resident Maria Bristow, 79, said she’s looking forward to having an office nearby where she can pay her rent. She hopes the new center will offer her neighbors more of a chance to get to know one another.
She said the center could be used as a venue for monthly birthday parties and other activities.

“If people would go and ... do something, it might help them meet people,” Bristow said.

Escamilla said she hopes the center will build a stronger sense of community.

“We think that having it there and geared toward the elderly population it will be easier for them to come out and walk across (the street) and to get some more fellowship with one another,” Escamilla said. “Seniors can tend to be sometimes shut-ins and if they’re afraid to get on the bus to go to the (Senior Life Center) then sometimes that can intimidate them so (they don’t) participate in activities that can extend their life. Because the more companionship you have and fellowship with your neighbors, I think you’re a happier person generally.”

For now, staff members are working to repair and freshen up the more than 20-year-old building.

Escamilla said the work that needs to be done to the building is minimal, though the kitchen needs repairs. Those will be taken care of by staff and are not expected to take long.


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