The Payson Senior Center had a soggy start to 2009. Pipes broke in the ceiling above the kitchen and flooded the place.
The staff and board of directors scrambled, and with the help of the community, the center’s all-important meal program continued with little more than a wrinkle in service. For many of the area’s senior citizens, the meal provided by the center is the only nutritionally complete, hot meal they have each day.
Repairs to the center were supposed to take three weeks, said Executive Director Reed Cox. Instead, the work took three months. But in the end, he had happier cooks, happier members and a happy health department. The repair work made it possible to bring the old kitchen and dining room up to code.
The Payson Senior Center has about 250 paid members, Cox said. Some of the members are people who have bought a membership as a way to support the center, but don’t necessarily take advantage of the meal programs, activities and services at the facility.
In addition to hot lunches, the Meals on Wheels operates from the center. Currently, the MOW program only serves homebound seniors within the town limits, but if funding, equipment and personnel were available, Cox said he would like to expand the service into outlying communities.
On average, between 40 and 60 people come to the center for lunch. The cost of the meals is only $3 for those 60 and older and $5 for those 50 to 60.
“We have worked to keep the cost of the meals stable,” Cox said.
The center’s second most popular service (behind the meal program) is the transportation it provides. Between 400 and 600 people make use of the service every month, Cox said. There are three trams (small buses) used: one makes the morning circuit all around Payson, the second does afternoon runs, and the third is kept as a spare. While anyone 50 and older can participate in one of the meal programs, the transportation program is limited to those 60 and older, unless there are special circumstances, Cox said.
On occasion, the center uses one of the trams for special outings: shopping, a day-trip to Sedona and several trips to the big Senior Fair in Coolidge. Cox said the center might take a group to Flagstaff this summer. The fee for the outings is minimal and just helps pay for the driver and fuel.
The Payson Senior Center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Most visitors to the center come in around mealtime or a little earlier if there is a guest speaker presenting a program. There is a small group that shows up early and has coffee, visits and helps get the dining room ready for lunch, consequently, they have been dubbed “The Lunch Bunch” and most of the group is 90 and older.
Penny Mayer, 93, one of The Lunch Bunch, said, “I love it and don’t know what I’d do without it.” She said she doesn’t have any family close, so the people at the Senior Center are all she has.
There are plenty of activities to help the members pass their time at the center. Different card games are played every day, sometimes there are two games going on at once; there is a music group; dance lessons; a weekly Bible study; and more. The center has offered computer classes in the past, but the machines became obsolete. Intel has donated refurbished units, but now Cox is searching for affordable software in order to start the classes again.
Several different services are also offered at the center. On occasion, health screening services are offered. Once a month the Pinal Gila Council for Senior Citizens (also known as the Area Agency on Aging) has a representative come to Payson to help members with legal assistance. Another representative, Bill Spangler, is at the center Monday and Tuesday, and until noon on Wednesday, to answer questions about benefits and programs available to seniors.
“He is really a great resource. I’m not that age yet, but I have been talking to him myself about what’s out there,” Cox said.
The Pinal Gila Council for Senior Citizens is a major source of support for the center, providing it with funding and services, such as the legal assistance and benefits information. It also reviews the menus for the meal programs to make sure they meat the dietary guidelines for seniors.
The Senior Center and its Senior Thrift Store rely heavily on help from a crew of dedicated volunteers. Cox said the center has about 30 volunteers and the thrift store has a similar number. While most of the volunteers are seniors, there are some younger adults who help and about three or four teen volunteers as well.
The center is not just for seniors. Cox said he is glad to rent out the upstairs — which was just remodeled in the last two years and accommodates those with limited mobility with a chairlift — for meetings, classes, etc.
To learn more about the Payson Senior Center, call (928) 474-4876.