Living in a small town, one of the best ways to get to know people is to volunteer in the community. Whether it be at the local non-profit thrift store, animal shelter, lending expertise to a 4-H or FFA club, or even just reading to the kids at the library -- there's really no better way to meet your neighbors, and it's a fantastic way to keep vital programs and events going.
One of those vital places is our local Senior Centers. These buildings, located in Mammoth Spring, Viola, Salem, Thayer, Alton, Ash Flat and Cherokee Village, offer a cool place to go on a hot day, good food at a reasonable cost ($2 for seniors, $5 for folks under 60), games, activities and, perhaps the most important thing -- community.
Walk in to one of these centers and you'll be greeted with smiling faces, a lively group playing cards or dominoes, folks at a table reminiscing about "the good old days" and plenty of laughter and joking to go around.
For many of these seniors, this is their only opportunity to get out of the house and see other people. It's a sanctuary to visit for friendships, companionship, a sense of purpose and something to do.
Right now, our senior centers are suffering. Donations are down sharply and funding has been cut. Without assistance from their communities, these centers will have to cut back on services, if not close down all together.
We all have been blessed at one time or another with the presence of wise seniors in our lives, whether they were grandparents, doctors, teachers or friends, and we will all, eventually, be seniors ourselves.
A few months back, we ran an interview with one of the seniors who frequents the Salem Senior Center, Lowell Ozbirn. It highlighted what life was like for Lowell, growing up in Salem in the 1920s. It was one of our most popular columns - ever. Why? Because it was a look back, to remind us of just how far we've come. Plus, it showed us that even when Salemites had very little, they still made the best of it, just like many of us are struggling to do today.
I used to love to visit my great-uncle when I was a child. Even at 100, he was spry and sharp-witted, having retired from the railroad at 70 to devote his "leisure" time to gardening, motorcycles and driving (which he did wearing a bicycle helmet, because sometimes he would take the turns a little too fast and his head would bump into the driver's side window -- did I mention my family has a history of lead feet when it comes to gas pedals?)
Some of the best advice I ever received, I got from him, because he'd lived, and he really knew what it meant to be honorable, true and ethical. And what could happen when you weren't.
Our seniors are a wealth of memories, advice and history. We should cherish them, and celebrate them. Not allow them to disappear and be forgotten. One small step is to support your local senior center. Even if it's just by visiting, enjoying a $5 lunch, and passing the time chatting with the seniors. Every little bit can make a difference.