Generations: A Community Gathering Place has found a new temporary home after a fire destroyed what was known as the Lakeland Senior Center in 2015.
The organization was previously at the Hiawatha Estates Clubhouse, but recently moved to the lower level of the Lakeside Plaza building in Woodruff in August.
“I was out scouting, trying to find someplace that would accommodate us for a short period of time and be accessible for clientele,” Lakeland Retirement Foundation vice president Geri Heppe said.
In May, the Lakeland Retirement Foundation met to decide what direction the organization wanted to move toward following the departure of executive director Janell Schroeder.
“The board got together to see what direction we wanted to proceed with Generations,” Lakeland Retirement Foundation president Brian Nerdahl said. “The board felt that, after a year-and-a-half of working on our capital campaign, that it might take too long of a time period to complete the entire project.”
As a result, the board decided to split the project into two phases, the first of which was building the main center — a 5,000 square-foot facility behind the One Penny Place in Woodruff on land donated to the organization in April 2018 by the Ascension Medical Group.
According to Nerdahl, the approximate cost for the new facility would be $1.2 million.
Nerdahl estimated they had raised around $350,000 in the year-and-a-half since the campaign started.
“So, the idea was that we could probably hit a million dollars a lot sooner than the entire project, costing $2.5 million,” Nerdahl said. “And we wanted to get a presence back in the community, because it’s been about four years since the fire.”
Phase two, then, would be to build a balance of the project, including the pickleball courts and additional space.
“And that project would be completed when funding would be available,” Nerdahl said.
“The beginning part is going to be classrooms, predominately, auditorium, and a kitchen to accommodate our members,” Heppe said.
The new center would feature seven available rooms when using dividers, Nerdahl said. He stated while the old center was roughly the same square-footage, the kitchen had taken up about “one-third” of the available space and wasn’t used.
“So, this will all be $5,000 of good, usable space,” Nerdahl said.
Visible in the community
One of the primary benefits of the new center being behind the One Penny Place was the visibility of the location within the community, accessibility, and the opportunity for expansion.
In the meantime, Generations hopes to remain visible within the community from their new location in Woodruff.
“We plan do a little more programming at this point, and that will be done through a committee that has been established to try and do some more educational-based programming,” Heppe said. “The concept of a senior center is changing dramatically in the state of Wisconsin and through the country. It’s not just cards and Bingo, it’s gotten to be more broad-based.”
While the organization will still incorporate many of the games and events it had before, it wants to include more activities to appeal to a wider variety of wants and needs of the aging population.
“When you consider the next senior center in our area is all the way in Rhinelander, there really isn’t anything,” Heppe said. “So we need to be able to be a conduit for the county, for their programs, as well as through the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), for the benefits specialist, and the ADRC counselors, and things of that nature.”
According to Nerdahl, part of the reasoning behind the name “Generations: A Community Gathering Place” was to separate the organization from some of the stigmas and connotations of being called a senior center.
“We do look for more of a wider range of ages to do more things for the community, and that was the whole concept behind that,” Nerdahl said.
Since the organization’s move to the new location, things have been going well according to Lakeland Retirement Foundation office administrator Cheryl Kazda.
“They really do like it,” Kazda said. “They like the elevators, they like the location, they think that the plowing and shovelling is going to be much better than it was last year.”
“As time goes along, we want to bring more programs back into the organization,” Nerdahl said.
Heppe said there were programs they wanted to bring back into the community alongside the ones already facilitated by the organization.
“You can see we’re rolling, but we need people to know where we are,” Heppe said. “We didn’t disappear and we’re growing and that’s an important part.”
‘Good support from partners in the community’
Heppe said the organization was open to volunteers wanting to get involved with the organization and programming.
“The more input we have, the better job we can do,” Heppe said.
The organization also strived to incite compassion and drive from the community to not only benefit the counties’ aging populations, but to help make the Generations center the “best it could be,” Heppe said.
Nerdahl said those interested in getting involved with the center could contact Kazda at the Generations office.
A conduit to the community
Heppe said the organization was working on developing its Facebook page and website to better serve the community.
“We’re on our Facebook page to be a conduit to the community for wellness programs. That’s what we’re in process of developing is a list of classes and programs throughout the community for adults,” Heppe said.
Nerdahl said those interested involved with the organization, or were interested in donating to the center could contact the Kazda at the Generations office.
“We are really hoping to build as soon as possible. For sure, by next spring would be the ideal to be able to get the $5,000 square-foot main center construction started, and could be completed within one year, within the same year,” Nerdahl said. “And that will really change the whole programming that’s going on and bringing all the things back.”
Nerdahl said they were “so thankful” to Holy Family Catholic Church for taking on the Meals on Wheels program for the seniors in the community.
“Anybody in the community that has any questions, concerns, we need to hear from them,” Nerdahl said.
“Having a senior center to be able to be a conduit to the community, for the community, for individuals, I mean, that’s the minimal thing we can do,” Heppe said.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]