BY MELANIE BUCK –
Mena Senior Center is more than just a place for seniors to get a hot meal. It is a place where they get fellowship, activity time, and compassion. Not only does Mena Senior Center serve those that come inside their doors, they serve those that can’t make it out of their own homes. “It means so much to so many of us,” said one visitor.
Offering morning coffee, daily activities, and smiling faces, Mena Senior Center gives many of the County’s older generation something to look forward to Monday through Friday. On average, the Center serves one hundred people inside the facilities and up to 100 meals per day are home delivered. The Center also delivers twice per month to homes outside of town, giving those clients fourteen frozen meals at a time, totaling close to 200 meals on each of those trips. In 2014, Mena Senior Center served more than 60,000 meals.
Executive Director Sara Holliday has devoted herself since being hired in 2007 to the Center’s clients and it’s very apparent that she loves what she does and is appreciative of her employees and volunteers. “We have a lot of volunteers that really care about the Senior Center. If it weren’t for the volunteers working here everyday, we would be in real trouble because I can’t afford to hire more help,” explained Holliday.
Holliday also explained that although food prices and such have increased, the Senior Center hasn’t received a budget increase since 2007. Working off of state grants and donations, the strings are pulled tight on an ever-decreasing purse. “Our employees have taken the hardest hits – no raises, no insurance, no bonuses, and they mostly work for minimum wage or not much above. You have to love this to do it. It’s difficult and I appreciate all of my employees and volunteers very much,” said Holliday.
However, with all of that being said, they don’t slack on what they do for their clients. Each day comes complete with a different scheduled activity that usually begins around 10 a.m. On Mondays, the Silver Sneakers class teaches senior-style aerobics, taught by Janice Woods of Ouachita Sports and Wellness Center. Tuesdays, they have gospel music and singings. BINGO is played on Wednesdays. Thursdays are reserved for country/western and sometimes gospel music, played by Gator and Friends. “It gets kind of rowdy on Thursdays. Gator and Friends is really popular with the clients,” said Holliday. Patriotic songs are sung on Fridays.
There is also a billiard room complete with three pool tables and also a game room where clients play cards, dominoes, or put a puzzle together. There is also a library and once a month, Kim Hughes holds a National Family Caregiver Support Group meeting for caregivers who care for seniors ages 60 and over. “The clients can come here for socialization and get out and about instead of being isolated. There are things here that will occupy them. They meet new people and make friends,” Holliday smiled.
Not only can they come into the Center for fellowship, food, and fun, clients can also receive help with retrieving grocery and household items from local stores and also, for transportation to the Senior Center and doctors appointments. “On Wednesdays, we take clients to Walmart and on Thursdays to James’ Superfoods. We also take them to the post office and for other errands when needed, as well as connecting them with an agency that can transport them to out of town doctor appointments,” Holliday said.
Servicing homebound clients, Holliday explained, is a twofold deal, “For some of our homebound participants, the driver who delivers the meal is the only person they see all day. In some ways, that’s a safeguard. Our drivers only deliver to that person and if they don’t answer their door and haven’t called in to let us know they’re not going to be home for their meal, we can call their emergency contact with information we get from all of our clients during intake. In some cases, our drivers have walked in and the person is on the floor and can’t get up or needs an ambulance and our drivers are able to get them help.”
Along with all of their other activities, full service holiday meals are served for Thanksgiving and Christmas and they also host specialty acts such as the popular Trinity Baptist Choir of Texarkana. “They are really popular here,” said Holliday. The choir is set to visit the Center next on November 10th and again on December 15th.
Mena Senior Center is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and meals are served at 11:45 a.m. The Center is located at 401 Autumn Drive, just off of Racetrack Road behind Walmart and asks for a $3 donation per meal. “We have some that pay more than their $3 and others that have a hard time paying $3. But all of their support is appreciated. It’s a lot of what keeps us going,” said Holliday.
Some of the clients expressed what the Center does for them. Claudine Embry is at the Center daily as a volunteer and client and was recently homebound for a period of time. During that time, the Center delivered meals to her each day. Emby said, “I couldn’t cook and it meant my husband didn’t have to fix soup. It was wonderful and I highly recommend using their services. It’s nice to know that you’re going to get a warm meal.” “The meals are very good. We have a monthly menu and I’ll pull it out and look at it and sometimes I don’t want what they are serving so I think, ‘well, I can get $3 worth of fellowship and come anyway. We love our Center and we love Mrs. Sara,” smiled Betty Owens.
“We hold at least 250 people and I would like to fill this place up every day. It amazes me that people don’t realize we are here, or how much we do for this community. I recently met a couple that have lived here for eight years and had no clue that we are here. Some people pull up and think it’s an assisted living facility because it’s so big. It’s not assisted living and I want folks to come see us and enjoy all that we have to offer,” Holliday said. “It’s therapeutic to just come and sit and enjoy each other’s company.”