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Open up the doors

Senior Center poised to welcome back friends, announce new executive director


One of the hardest hit portions of the community, the elderly, are soon going to be able to get out and socialize more.

After over a year of being cooped up, the Mower County Senior Center will open back up and give seniors a chance to find that social interaction they’ve been craving since COVID-19 shut down so much of the world last March.

“We had the SEMCAC food program for over a year and really the board decided to move forward,” said Senior Center Board member Charles Mills. “We need to clean up and open up in a functioning manner.”

Since March of 2020, SEMCAC has been offering drive-up meals at the Senior Center, but those who make use of everything the Senior Center has to offer were not able to meet and enjoy the company of others and the many programs.

The executive order, handed down by Gov. Tim Walz at the beginning of the pandemic, effectively closed that programming at the Senior Center, leaving seniors to feel even more isolated.

Paper and files wait to be sorted at the Mower County Senior Center. Eric Johnson/

However, as the decision was made to open the Senior Center back up, a couple steps had to be made first. Last month, Sarah Schafer stepped down as executive director.

The board immediately began the search for a new director going first from 11 applicants to now four. It is hoped to have a new executive director picked by the end of the week.

“We’re hoping for June 1 to open with a new director,” said Teresa Bartholomew, program coordinator for the Senior Center, allowing whoever the choose a couple weeks to transition.

Along the way, the board and the staff decided it was time to effectively freshen up the Senior Center and in the past couple weeks have been discarding materials no longer needed.

“One of the problems is we had records from over seven years worth,” Mills said. “Some going back to 1998. It’s accumulation focusing on the needs of the moment rather than standing back and asking what do we need and where do we need to go.”

However, staff simply aren’t throwing things away for the sake of clearing out space.

“We’re not trashing good stuff,” Mills said. “We’re being very judicious about what we are throwing away.”

Underlying all of this work is the simple excitement of just being able to open again.

People will once again be able to start enjoying simple things like soup and a sandwich, but what’s more they will be able to take part in an expanded programing model.

“We’re going to have social distancing but we plan to have exercise classes and support groups and more programs than this city has ever seen,” Mills said.

This includes expanding the presence of Catholic Charities programs within the Senior Center, which includes programs like Silver Sneakers.

Tying all of this together is a return to togetherness the Senior Center offers. A chance to once again get outside and be with others.

“We are very valuable to these people,” said Board President Ken Kroupe. “‘I want to see my friends.’ It’s been long enough.”

“We are on our way back,” Mills added.

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