Around 4,500 hours of volunteerism spread over 260 days of North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center activities can be attributed to what Senior Center Director Denise Andersen affectionately refers to as her “army of angels.”
Her army consists of mostly retired seniors who want to give back to the center that means so much to them and a few younger souls who just want to do something meaningful for the community. The Center’s volunteers were honored last week at a special luncheon at the Center on Wednesday held to celebrate their kind deeds.
“I liken it to a story I heard about a professor who puts golf balls in a jar, then sand and then water,” said Andersen. “In a way, volunteerism literally permeates our entire programming in a very similar way. If it weren’t for volunteers filling in these spaces, our programming couldn’t go forward. We count on them to spread the good word, to share their information and to help us do a better job.”
Andersen said volunteers are often the people who make the Center aware of people in the community who may need the services offered by the center.
“This is often how services get started. Whether it’s meal delivery, transportation or socialization, there is only one way we can answer that call, and that is by being informed,” explained Andersen.
Nick Lewis spoke at the event. Lewis has performed many roles in the community over the years and is currently Facility Operations Coordinator at North Big Horn Hospital. He also manages the Rose City West housing development for senior citizens, a responsibility he’s held for many years.
As he looked at the audience from the podium Lewis noted the familiar faces of many in the room who have made significant contributions to the community through their volunteer efforts. He noted that projects like the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center, the Foster Gulch Golf Course, the Lovell Chamber of Commerce Building, the Log Gym in Cowley and the restoration and operation of the Hyart Theatre were made possible through volunteer efforts.
“When I take people out to the golf course and tell them the entire thing was built by volunteers, people can’t believe it,” said Lewis.
Lewis also praised the efforts of volunteers to refurbish and reopen the Hyart Theatre in Lovell.
“I don’t know about you folks, but I spent hours and hours and hours helping with that project, but what I remember most is how we as a community got together and reopened the Hyart and what a nice thing that has been for our community,” said Lewis. “I would bet there are hundreds of thousands of hours that people have given back to the community because it is a community that we love and we want to give back to it. We want to honor it because it is a place we choose to live and a place we choose to raise our families.”
Lewis said he sees his personal experience as a volunteer as a selfish act, since he gets so much more back than he gives.
“I get far more warm feelings and satisfaction from any time I volunteer than the person or place I volunteer to help,” said Lewis.
Andersen said she agreed with Lewis, that volunteers never give more than they get out of the experience. She said she sees even the smallest act of kindness as an act of volunteerism.
“People are naturally giving,” said Andersen. “Those small acts of kindness, like giving of yourself, always come back to you.”
The creation of senior centers, designed to provide services to the age 60-plus population, dates back to the early 70s when federal money was set aside through the Older Americans Act and used to create centers like the one located in Lovell. At that time, certain risks specific to the elderly population were identified and became the focus of senior centers across the nation. Topping the list of priorities is nutritional risk and the risk of isolation, due to lack of transportation.
Andersen said the center continues to address these risks as its top priority, serving meals that are both hearty and nutritious, offering low cost rides, social activities like quilting, card playing, holiday celebrations and by being the hub of information in the form of both group and one-on-one sessions.
Andersen said maintaining a building uses a large part of the Center’s budget of approximately $600,000 per year. A 1 mill levy contributes approximately $100,000 per year to that budget.
Andersen said the Senior Center has a pool of around 40 volunteers, compared to its very small staff of less than a dozen employees, who are mostly part-time.
She noted that the most visible volunteers are the meal delivery volunteers, but there are many more who help small and large tasks from tying knots on quilts to baking cakes for the Center’s monthly birthday celebration to teaching workshops to helping clear tables after the daily lunch is served at the center. And, according to Andersen, every moment volunteered counts toward making the center a community asset.
By Patti Carpenter