You can find Arlene Wilbur at the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center every day except Wednesday. The 93-year-old often volunteers at the reception desk answering the phone. Wilbur socializes in the "Chat Room" on Fridays where members discuss different topics and solve riddles to keep their minds sharp. She also attends a diabetes support group on Mondays.
Maggie Martin, 66, also volunteers at the reception desk and said she frequently observes people in their 50s and 60s bring their parents to the senior center and find out there is something for them as well. They are thrilled to know that they, too, can benefit from the state-of-the-art fitness center, she said.
And Martin added, “Younger seniors are surprised to see all that is offered. Fun, food and friendship — what a vibrant place.”
Wilbur said that she wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for the senior center. “It keeps my mind going,” she said.
Martin agrees. It takes some sharpness to play bridge, mahjong, and participate in computer and language classes.
Sue Frank, supervisor at the senior center for the past 20 years, said it's really built up its fitness center in recent years, which now attracts people from all over the county.
More and more seniors are taking better care of their health and want to maintain or improve it, she said. She believes the senior center is the answer for many keeping its members mentally and physically active.
Gulfport’s senior center is a gem in its community and a shining example of what senior centers can do for the people it serves. Gulfport’s is one of only 11 nationally accredited senior centers in all of Florida and a Community Focal Point designated by the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas, Inc.
“This place keeps us older folks going,” Wilbur chuckled.
There are many senior centers in Florida that meet the needs of seniors who wish to remain physically and mentally active. Many seniors and their families are not aware that many of these facilities exist. For those that have discovered facilities in their area, many seniors are grateful to have a place to go.
The Gulfport Multi-Purpose Senior Center offers so many recreational, social, educational and nutritional programs to offer seniors 50 years and older. Members can use the treadmills, recumbent cycle, or any of the seven Shapemaster Powered Exercise chairs that were imported from England.
“We were the first Senior Center in the United States to offer this equipment,” Frank said.
The fitness center also provides yoga classes, tai chi, and blood pressure screening to promote health and wellness.
Facility use is free, but all are invited to become a member of the Gulfport Multi-Purpose Senior Center Foundation that helped make the senior center what it is today. The annual Foundation membership fee of $20 helps support Foundation projects such as the fitness center, snack bar, facility improvements, computers with Internet service, etc. For the past eight years, the senior center has been mainly supported by this Foundation. By raising and distributing funds, the Foundation’s main objective is to aid and enhance programs and services offered at the senior center.
The senior center also has a transportation service for Gulfport residents 55 and over. The annual cost is $50 and trips to medical appointments, grocery stores, banks, salons, etc. are only $1 per one-way trip. All rides to the senior center are free for GEMS riders.
The senior center also serves as a referral agency and can put members in touch with legal services, home health services, government assistance, etc. It also has a small food pantry to accommodate low-income Gulfport seniors 50 and over.
, 76, has been impressed by the Gulfport Senior Center since she stepped through its doors for the first time. She commented that everyone who comes is treated with compassion and has the opportunity to make use of the many offered classes, meals, snacks and transportation.
"But the best thing is the young attitudes of the members," Fleming said. "The place is filled with love, laughter and smiling faces. It is youthful and reminds me sometimes of the movie 'Cocoon'."
Members enjoy a full calendar including Wii bowling tournaments, a variety of art classes, Bingo, board games, computer classes, language classes, and many other activities. The Italian enthusiast can look forward to enjoying Italian language classes, Italian movies, Italian dance classes, when they resume in the fall. Other special interest clubs include knitting, investments, and writing. The Senior Center hosts a special event each month such as Cinco de Mayo and Mardi Gras that were very well attended and enjoyed by all. Later this month (June 22) members can also enjoy an ice cream carnival that will include entertainment, door prizes, games, and much more (tickets are $3 and can be purchased online).
The senior center hosts support groups for diabetics, the visually impaired, hearing impaired, Alcoholics Anonymous, and caregivers. And Gulfport seniors who live alone are supported by volunteers who call them each morning to check on their welfare.
To volunteer at the Gulfport Multi-Purpose Senior Center, contact Sue Frank at (727) 893-2237 or Cynthia Dean at (727) 893-1231.