Westchester Rotary Club funds upgrades for vital community hub

By Bonnie Eslinger

The Westchester Senior Citizen Center promotes  social engagement Photo by Bonnie Eslinger

The Westchester Senior Citizen Center promotes
social engagement
Photo by Bonnie Eslinger

Ellie Ross has been coming to the Westchester Senior Citizen Center for more than 25 years, but she knows other older folks who won’t give the community hub a chance.

“This place is a mess,” said Ross, 86. “I have a friend who will not come to this building because she says it’s very depressing — that’s the word she uses.”

Nonetheless, the windowless, beige-walled auditorium near the intersection of Lincoln Boulevard and Manchester Avenue is a refuge from loneliness for many aging residents in the Westside community. It’s also a spot for them to grab a hot lunch, take a fitness class, join a bingo game or kick up their heels at the center’s monthly dances, among other activities and services.

Aiming to make the center a more inviting place, the Rotary Club of Westchester is giving the city-run facility a $100,000 makeover, including a remodeled kitchen, fresh paint, garden improvements, an art installation, refinished floors and smoothing over some uneven concrete on the walkway in front of the building.

Hired contractors started work on the senior center this week, with Rotary members and other volunteers scheduled to come in this weekend to do painting, cleaning and small projects, said Rotarian Warren Bobrow. Work is expected to wrap up by May 8.

The Westchester Rotary takes on a community project every other year and has a long history with the senior center, including hosting an annual luncheon, Bobrow said. The group hopes the renovation project will not only revitalize the building but also boost public interest in helping its elderly patrons.

“For this year’s project it seemed like a good fit to bring attention to a resource in our community and to make it better,” Bobrow wrote in an email. “We hope that this spotlight will bring better programs, more members and greater utilization of the Senior Center.”

Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and closed on the weekends, the center sees about 70 senior citizens per day, said Joan Brunckhurst, president of the facility’s senior club.

“They come for lunch and the activities,” Brunckhurst said while surveying a Friday noontime crowd, sitting in small clusters eating and socializing. “[Otherwise] they’d just stay home and be isolated.”

Don Christenson, 82 and a center regular, said he doesn’t care if the place looks nicer, particularly since the improvements will close the facility for a few days.

“Now we’ll be out of a place to relax,” he said.

Christenson said he also wished some of the improvement money would be used to bring back Internet service to the center’s computers. The amenity was discontinued a few months ago due to cost and lack of use, the seniors were told.

One big-ticket item of the senior center makeover is renovation of the kitchen, which will include replacing cabinets, countertops and appliances. Another is fixing the walkway right outside the facility’s front door. Many users of the center said a ramp with uneven concrete “was difficult to navigate using walkers or wheelchairs,” Bobrow said.

Funding for the Rotary project is coming from the organization and community fundraising, along with “significant donations” from the Drollinger Family Foundation, The Hannon Foundation and the Westchester Women’s Club, according to Bobrow.

Ross said she was looking forward to seeing the finished product and is thankful for the Rotary’s help.

“It will be cleaner, that’s for sure — so that’s good,” said Ross. “We come because we need the fellowship and companionship. We need that more than anything else.”