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Macon seniors lobby for new senior center

Macon seniors lobby for new senior center

Seniors packed the Macon County commissioners’ meeting July 10 to lobby the county for a new senior center. 

The Macon County Senior Resource Center, which is located in the old library building at 108 Wayah Street, is well utilized but is getting overcrowded and the parking lot can’t accommodate all the patrons.

Commission Chairman Jim Tate said he visited the senior center back in May on a bingo night and could attest to the limited parking situation. 

“I had to circle the building twice for parking and ended up having to be dropped off,” he said. “I was pleased to see how many people were using the facility and seeing the smiling faces, but I’m also seeing we might not have enough space for what’s happening there.”

Jean Wright, 74, said she was devastated when her husband of 50 years died unexpectedly July 1, 2014. She admitted that she became a semi-recluse other than going to church on Sundays, but it was the senior center that gave her a new lease on life. 

The ladies from her church asked her to come to lunch with them one day at the senior center and she agreed. 

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“Then in September I fell in my backyard and yelled for help for three hours before someone heard me and called EMS,” she told commissioners. “The first call I made was to explain why I hadn’t been at lunch at the senior center. These people have become very important to me.”

Wright was homebound and couldn’t drive after her recovery and the women from the senior center signed her up for the Meals on Wheels program, which she said helped more than they could imagine. When she could drive again she was right back at the senior center taking tai chi classes, joining the writers group and facilitating a new book club. 

“I’m meeting people my own age and making friends and learning new things — I don’t have to sit at home and sink into a reclusive state,” she said. “They’re vibrant happy people that are quick to smile and I’m beginning to believe the 90s are the new 70s.”

When a part-time position became available at the senior center, Wright jumped at the opportunity. Now she works there organizing monthly trips for the seniors and facilitates brain games.

Lucille Green, 96, told commissioners a new facility is needed to meet the growing demands. With the North Carolina Department of Transportation working toward installing a roundabout at the intersection of Wayah Street and Porter Street, she said their limited parking would be further impacted. 

Don Capaforte, senior center administrative officer, said he wanted seniors to share their stories so commissioners can see the real impact the center is having in the community. 

With the growing rate of elderly residents and the increasing levels of participation at the center, Capaforte said the county needed to plan now for a larger facility. 

“People are moving here to retire — there are more people 60 and older in Macon County than there is zero to 18 — 28 percent of residents are 60 and older,” he said. “We need to be ready. There are 1,500 participants on our rolls and we average 200 participants each day there for different activities.”

Of the 28 percent of seniors in Macon County, Capaforte said a majority of them are isolated and living alone. He said studies have shown social isolation is just as bad if not worse for seniors’ health than obesity, smoking or a lack of exercise. 

Commissioner Ronnie Beale commended the senior center for its work and the amount of volunteer hours that go into keeping it running. 

Tate assured Capaforte and the seniors at the meeting that a new senior center would be at the forefront of the Capital Improvement Plan that is currently being put together. 

“We can’t go anywhere without a plan,” he said. “Nothing moves fast in government but we hear you.”

Seniors aren’t the only Macon County residents asking for improved facilities and services. People from the Nantahala community have been approaching the county commissioners for months asking for improvements to its community center, library and convenience center. Even though Nantahala only makes up a small percentage of the entire county population — about 2,000 of 34,000 — residents say their community isn’t getting its fair share of services based on the taxes they pay. 

Nantahala resident Howell Jacobs said July 10 it would be his last time coming before the board to ask for improvements to their facilities, including the library that his housed in a modular building at Nantahala School and the convenience center that sits on a gravel lot. 

“We need a new community building and library — that’s not much,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to spend some money over there and y’all know it. Stuff being built over here (Franklin) all the time.” 

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