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Director says senior center has lots of life, but volunteers needed
Merry Howard, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Life Center, visits with Lovemia Burell and Joseph Dobos in the center's exercise room. - photo by Tom Reed

As director of the local Senior Life Center, Merry Howard stresses the second word in the agency's name.

"There is life here at the center; we're not just sitting around here vegetating," Howard said.
Howard has been the director of the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Life Center for more than two years, and she says that her main passion is changing people's perception that the place is just a day care center for grandparents.

The Senior Life Center, which recently became the first nationally accredited senior center in the state because of its plan to serve current and future retirees, provides free services and activities like bingo and arts and crafts for Hall County's 60-and-older adult community on weekdays.

Currently, the center has a small fitness room and provides health screenings as a part of its wellness program, but Howard wants to expand the program.

Howard said she hopes that she can make the center more appealing to adults between the ages of 55 and 60 by adding a bridge club and other programs like ballroom and line dancing and yoga and Jazzercise classes to give older adults a place to exercise together.

"Typically, we don't serve anyone younger than 60 unless they come in to use the exercise equipment," Howard said. "That's what we're looking to do when we start planning for the future, growing our center and having more programs and activities that appeal to a broader base of senior adults."

But the success of the programs Howard dreams of relies on the help of long-term volunteers, Howard said.

"One of the barriers that we have is having enough staff and volunteers to do program activities," Howard said. "... The type of volunteers we need are volunteers that are going to stay to do a long-term project or a long-term program. You know, at one time, we had someone to teach computer classes. Well, we haven't had anyone that would come and stay for any length of time to teach computer classes (in a while)."

Howard hopes to achieve her goals for a vibrant Senior Life Center in the next few months, but acknowledges that progress will take time. All she needs is a plan, and she has that now that the center is accredited.

"Now that we know our strengths and weaknesses, we know ... what we need to start working toward," Howard said.