By Martie Thompson
Tucked away on Hartley Road is a gem for our community’s seniors: the Mandarin Senior Center. What began with just a few golden agers meeting in the Moose Lodge in 1987 has now grown into a vibrant recreation center that serves approximately 500 members. The programs and members have long since outgrown the current building, which opened in 1990, and expansion plans have been in place for some time. According to Advisory Board Chair Chris Buckley, these will finally be coming to fruition … and not a moment too soon.
“We have $1.5 million approved from the city this year for our expansion,” Buckley said. “The actual size of the expansion is to be determined, but we envision a large central room with breakout rooms that will be attached to the current center. The plan is to hopefully start construction this fall.”
Architectural plans exist from a few years ago when an expansion was anticipated. Unfortunately, the funding fell through and the amount approved now is not as much. But with the center serving an estimated 75 – 100 people per day and more for special occasions, the additional space is needed now more than ever.
“For big events, like our Independence Day and Christmas dinners, we have to operate on a first come, first served basis,” Buckley said.
Board member Frances Bosman said, “At this point, if we add a program, we pretty much have to drop one due to space issues.”
The Mandarin Senior Center is open to anyone over the age of 60. To become a member, a senior must fill out an application and then visit three times to get a membership card. With a membership card, a senior may participate in any of the programs at the center, as well as receive transportation to the center from the Mandarin/Southside area. A free lunch is served each weekday and a hot breakfast is served on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The membership card is scanned for each activity, and this is how the center receives funding from various public agencies.
Available programs include the ever-popular Bingo as well as yoga, dancing, exercise classes, shuffleboard, many varieties of card games and off site field trips to zoos, museums and sporting events, some of which require an additional fee. Also, the center is open two evenings a week, offering square dancing on Monday and ballroom dancing on Thursday. The center has a ceramics room, a library, computers, and a billiard room.
In addition to the Advisory Board, which is made up of community members, the senior center has an active Site Council made up of seniors. According to Site Council member Michael Beck, this is the body that is responsible for planning the day to day activities and programs.
Site Council Chair Luci McCracken, like many members, gives back to the center that she considers her home away from home. She and several other members help maintain the gardening and the landscaping around the center. Another member enjoys maintaining the center’s library.
Although the City of Jacksonville owns the building and pays for utilities and limited staff, the center relies heavily on volunteers to keep things going. Additionally, both the Advisory Board and the Site Council conduct fundraisers to help fund programs and supplies. An annual Spaghetti Dinner and Health Fair are two examples of events that are designed to invite the community into the center as well as raise funds. According to Buckley, a Cinco de Mayo taco night is in the works for this May.
Over the years, the senior center has undergone some minor expansions and improvements. According to Bosman, they have received good support from the Jacksonville City Council and Mandarin councilmembers in particular, including Dick Kravitz, who oversaw the funding of the enclosing of the back sun porch to provide additional interior space and Sharon Copeland, who was instrumental in the acquisition of the land next to the senior center, which includes two small buildings currently used for billiards and yoga, as well as the land that will be used for the proposed expansion. Tommy Hazouri was mayor when the building had its grand opening and ribbon cutting in November 1990. Currently, Matt Schellenberg is championing the funding for the expansion project.
“The main thing is that the Mandarin Senior Center provides socialization for seniors rather than them sitting at home, sometimes alone. Our programs get them up and moving,” Buckley said.
Member Odile Gracy concurred and said, “The senior center often fills a big void in people’s lives.”
The Mandarin Senior Center is located at 3848 Hartley Road. Call (904) 262-7309 for more information.
Photo by Martie Thompson
Michael Beck, Chris Buckley, Odile Gracy, Frances Bosman and Luci McCracken look at the initial plans for the expansion of the Mandarin Senior Center in the center’s library.