Even before the doors of the Pickens County Senior Center open in the morning s, a line begins to form. It’s just before 8 a.m. and the early birds are anxious for the day’s activities to begin.
“They’re ready to get here,” said Kimberly Bolt, the center’s enthusiastic and gregarious director who has more than tripled enrollment since she came to the center three years ago. “They come in and immediately divide into three areas - what we call the ‘hens’ nest,’ the veterans, and the Rummikub players. Our daily activities begin at 9:30. Around 10:45 we get ready for lunch.”
Pickens County Senior Center Director Kimberly Bolt keeps things lively with daily activities, field trips and other events.
All activities at the center are free, but seniors are required to register.
But Bolt doesn’t just go through the motions and offer bingo for a day’s activity. She’s passionate about seniors and pulls out all the stops to improve their quality of life - and she’s found her happy place at the Pickens center.
“I’m taking care of God’s older kids,” Bolt said. “I’ve always loved geriatrics. People think seniors are all mothballs and Depends, but they’re not. They have so much love and wisdom. This job is almost like a ministry. It’s like a calling and it’s not for everybody. I’ve got teenagers. I don’t want to work with teenagers. But I love this.”
Senior Center members participate in fun and educational activities like a recent field trip to Home Depot where they learned about tips for the house.
More than nutrition
In 1965 the Older Americans Act was enacted to provide a range of home and community-based services, including Meals-on-Wheels and other nutrition programs. Thirty years later, in 1995, the Weldon J. Lowe Senior Citizens Center of Pickens County opened. Now, every single weekday, the center’s Meals-on-Wheels volunteers deliver 22 hot plates to homebound seniors and “congregate” hot meals are provided for seniors who visit the building.
But with an enrollment that has jumped from 20 when she was hired three years ago to the current enrollment of 90, it’s clear these seniors are coming for more than food. Bolt tries to create an environment where seniors are respected and can “have a good, big laugh like everyone needs.”
“I’m here to give them food, fun and fellowship,” Bolt said. “These are people who worked in the marble mines. They fought in WWII and Vietnam. Now they are retired and we don’t need to count them out. I’ve noticed we’re even starting to have younger seniors coming in, too. Our youngest is 60 – you have to be 60 to come here - and the oldest is 97 and still drives. We’ve got a wide range.”
Bolt has beefed up and diversified the daily activities, and has initiated a wide variety of ‘field trip’ activities and events that fall outside of the center’s regular operating hours of 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Daily activities include things like knitting, basket weaving, and glass etching. They do yoga and have speakers talk about a variety of topics, including legal advice. Any senior can sign up for dance lessons where they’ll learn the swing, the foxtrot and the waltz, among many other activities.
This week local photographers are donating “Glamour Shot” style photos of members in anticipation of a Valentine’s Day party; they’re holding a senior prom later in the year and expect 200 attendees; seniors participated in a tri-county talent show where they performed a retro television commercial skit; they had a state fair.
For the first time ever the senior center participated in the Fourth of July parade and they won second place; and recently they attended a free workshop at Home Depot where they learned about fall prevention and other tips for the home.
“We’re going to take a field trip each month that focuses on a different area of the county,” Bolt said. “Next month we’re going to the Boys & Girls Club. Once seniors find out we’re not a nursing home and we’re not the health department, they come in and are blown away at the life that’s here. It’s like a family.”
A family affair
Bolt said seniors enrolled at the center develop a close sense of community, and that socialization – just like nutrition, exercise and sleep - is vital for a healthy, happy mind.
She used a recent experience to demonstrate. One senior fell ill and is in the hospital in Atlanta. His girlfriend, who he met at the center, stays with him because he’s on life support.
“People are taking turns transporting her because she doesn’t drive,” Bolt said. “They passed the plate and raised $412 to help. That’s huge. These people are on fixed income. We are very connected, just like family.”
In addition to this couple, Bolt said they’ve had other couples hook up at the center as well.
“I think we put a damper on eHarmony,” she said. “We’ve had three couples get together.”
Beyond caring for mind and body, Bolt said caring for seniors is important because that segment of the population impacts far more than just them as individuals.
“In Pickens 64 percent of the population is senior,” she said. “There are a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren because of drug problems. One third of people will be diagnosed with dementia and they have caretakers. We must address our seniors and acknowledge them and help them. When there is trouble in their camp it affects the whole camp, their whole family. We are all important and you can’t leave them out.”
Bolt is also the first director to be active with the Pickens County Family Connection, which brings community partners together to improve the quality of life for children and families.
“I get to be their voice,” Bolt said. “I’m their advocate.”
Looking ahead and learning more
This year the center’s motto is “Make Life a Dream in 2017.” Bolt is focusing on nutrition, exercise, crafts, activities, education, money saving tips, fraud awareness, and how to live a fulfilling life.
In addition to all the activities and events, the center has games, a pool table, an exercise room, a movie and book library to help fulfill these missions, along with volunteers and donors. Currently, Bolt said they are in search of a volunteer to develop a website for the center. They also need to replace a broken treadmill.
To enroll, seniors must be at least 60 years old and must be a Pickens County resident. Anyone who is interested in learning more can drop by and check the center out for a day. If they like what they see and want to enroll, seniors will be asked to fill out paperwork, but all services are free – and Bolt said no one is required to participate in activities.
“We are an active center and we keep things active, but we’re free range here,” she said. “They don’t have to participate in the activities, they can come here and do what they want. Like I said, I’m here to provide food, fun and fellowship.”
And this director said she has no plans on leaving the county or the center anytime soon.
“I fell in love with Pickens County,” Bolt said. “I grew up in Woodstock and it got too big. I bought a house here and it’s my forever home. I never dread coming to work. I’m retiring here and am here to stay.”
The Pickens County Senior Center is located at 400 Stegall Drive, Jasper, Ga. 30143. They can be reached at 706-692-6133.