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Making A Difference in Your Community : Senior Center Fills Void in Santa Clarita

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a sunny room at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, a dozen women are busy with a dozen different projects. Some crochet “granny squares,” some work on yarn snowmen for their grandchildren, some glue plastic cups onto a string of holiday lights to make a twinkling wreath.

The crafts are different but the goal is the same. The Monday craft club at the center in Newhall helps combat loneliness, filling a void left by career or family.

Clarice Secrest, 73, started coming to the center a couple of years after selling her cake-decorating and candy-making business five years ago.

“This has been a real good fill-in,” she said as she melted a hole in a plastic cup with a glue gun. “I like to be with the public.”

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For Louise Connors, also 73, the center was a place to turn when her husband died in February.

“I came to lunch and didn’t know a soul,” said the portrait artist. “They took me in. They took me by the hand.”

Now Connors, who lives in Newhall, comes four times a week for crafts, a literature class that has encouraged her to write poetry and for a grief support group where a counselor helps her deal with her husband’s death.

The center, run by staff members and a volunteer army of 346, gives seniors in the Santa Clarita Valley a place to fit in, to feel welcome, said volunteer coordinator Dorothy Kazel, 67.

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Isolation and hopelessness is a real danger for seniors with few social contacts, she said.

“They become like vegetables,” she said. “They sit and watch TV and they feel like they’re a part of nothing.”

At the center they can take part in billiards games, tai chi or aerobics classes, health lectures, and trips to racetracks, malls, even to Mexico.

The center also offers something to those taking care of seniors with memory-robbing diseases or who are recovering from strokes. For four hours, two days a week, about 20 seniors come for craft workshops, sing-alongs and discussions. It is called a respite program, because that’s what it gives to the care givers.

“This gives the care giver a chance to breath, a chance to go shopping,” said Stan Sierad, a longtime volunteer at the center. And for the clients, it gives them a chance to feel connected.

The center doesn’t officially open until 8 a.m., but volunteers and clients often show up at 7:30 a.m., Kazel said.

They come for classes, for one of the 500 lunches prepared each day and served at the center or delivered to the homebound, and, like Louise Connors, they come for the companionship.

Connors expressed her appreciation in poem form to friends in the craft club:

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They gather every Monday

to sew, crochet and chat --

Some old friends, some new,

it makes no matter that.

The day flies by so quickly;

you wonder at its speed.

We laugh at jokes or anecdotes,

or funny things to read .

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Monday, after Sunday,

we sometimes feel so lonely.

Then spending time with you,

the heart will fill up warmly.

The center needs volunteers for dozens of tasks including accounting, typing, serving food, counseling and leading tours. For more information, call Dorothy Kazel at (805) 259-9444.

Other volunteer opportunities:

The Valley Storefront of the Jewish Family Services in North Hollywood needs volunteers to commit one day a week to refer seniors to various services, work with support groups and counsel individuals. The nonprofit, non-sectarian social services agency also needs a typist to volunteer two or three hours one day a week. For more information, call (818) 984-1380.

Family Service Agency of Burbank is looking for volunteers to staff its Senior Peer Counseling Program. The agency needs individuals at least 60 years old to help their peers cope with issues related to aging. Volunteers are required to take a five-week training course focusing on counseling skills and strategies. Call (818) 845-7671.

Getting Involved is a weekly listing of volunteering opportunities. Please address prospective listings to Getting Involved, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, 91311. Or fax them to (818-772-3338).


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