July 17, 208 — They came with picks, shovels, buckets, and $500 worth of plants to spiff up the landscape around the about-to-open George Simmons Terrace Senior Center.
The greenery and flowers as well as much of the labor to plant them were donated by Home Depot. The home improvement store's 10 workers were joined by a handful of others from the Human Services Department and the community.
"It's something we do for the community. We're trying to give back," Home Depot Assistant Manager Leo Zamore said as the crew began digging Thursday morning.
Human Resources Manager Barbara Wheatley pointed out that many of Home Depot's customers come from St. John so it was appropriate to include the island in its outreach efforts.
The center will welcome its first seniors Friday.
The Human Services Department took over the unused community center at George Simmons Terrace because its senior center at Calabash Boom sits adjacent to the affordable housing project now under construction.
"The developer needed too much of the facility," said Michal Rhymer-Charle, Human Services assistant commissioner.
Currently, the front yard of the former Calabash Boom senior center is filled with construction materials.
The 25 seniors served by the center moved to a conference room at the Human Services building in Cruz Bay in January 2006, the same time construction on the Calabash Boom affordable housing project was slated to start. It was delayed by court challenges from neighbors.
While St. John has another senior center at St. Ursula's Multipurpose Center, Rhymer-Charles said that one is operated on a contract with the Episcopal Diocese, not directly by Human Services. She said that combining the groups wouldn't work because St. Ursula's doesn't have enough room.
Human Services has big plans for the George Simmons facility. In addition to gardening, cooking, jewelry making, and computer classes, the center will offer exercise classes.
Rhymer-Charles said the department recently hired a director of therapeutic recreation to oversee exercise programs for all its senior citizen centers.
"We're moving them from passive to active," Shereese Jurgen, who heads the program, said.
Abigail Hendricks, who serves as head of the George Simmons senior center, envisions the center attracting the growing number of baby boomers over age 60 to its activities.
"You don't have to be like 70 to come here. Everyone is welcome," she said.
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