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IN THE KNOW: Time of change and empty buildings

Something fun is always cooking at the Alexandria Senior Center, such as its Oktoberfest celebration last fall that included the brat cooking team of board members Curt Danielson and Clarence Wolf. (Contributed)

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness." Most of we older folks remember reading Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities in school years ago. These words come to mind these days.

We are truly overwhelmed by the idea of ordering our groceries and our clothing online, especially if we have never used a computer. There are empty buildings at the mall and downtown. We know they will be filled and renovated with new offerings, but we can't imagine that old timers like J.C. Penney and Herberger's and many small specialty shops we are familiar with are no longer in operation. Change is so rapid. It took years for the old tube radios to become TVs but only 10 years for everyone to need a smartphone! We definitely need each other! We also need the help and understanding of service providers! Of course, to receive that assistance we have to be aware of the ones that are available.

We are so fortunate in our area! We have the network of senior clubs in each community organized in what is called the County Committee on Aging. This group functions under the direction of Mary Krueger, Senior Services director for Douglas County. One of their primary functions is to assist the older people in their community become aware of what help there is out there from medical care, to home delivered meals, to legal advice. For families/friends concerned for persons who are isolated, Mary maintains a complete listing on Douglas County's website of all services available in the county and how to contact them for more information.

This information is also available at the Alexandria Senior Center located at 414 Hawthorne. Volunteers can answer your requests and brochures for most services are readily available. This center is unique! It is owned by the seniors. Every paid member owns a share. It is commonly called the Senior Community Center to serve the entire county area. Every senior club in the county contributed to create a "home base" for senior programming. The programming is dependent upon the membership for its scope and offerings. Many senior centers are being closed. This is primarily because it is no longer enough to offer bingo and cards. Many other places offer these programs these days! Of course, you can still play Bingo at the Center, but more importantly you can enhance your life. Want to skydive rather than crochet? It is possible.

The center is a place to gather and meet new friends. The past five years have been dedicated to bringing the 1984 building up to standard in technical areas of heating and air flow, handicapped accessibility and audio and visual equipment including a great art studio! Specialty groups meet there regularly. These include state-sponsored programming for the visually impaired, computer classes, AARP Smart Driving classes, tax preparation, foot care and special exercise classes, congregate dining and home delivered meals. It is ALIVE and growing.

Regrettably, many over 50 "cut off your nose to spite your face." Remember that quote? They don't like the word senior. That wonderful word of respect prevents them from participating both as volunteer leaders and participants. They seem to feel that if they enter this building, their teeth and hair will fall out and they will be old. What a loss for them and for future programs they could develop and lead. It is also for all age groups. Seniors and youth often share the same needs and the days the kids from the high school come to teach the seniors how to use their iPads and cell phones or to dance with them. The halls resound with laughter and fun.

Alexandria was declared an Age Friendly City and there is great energy expended by a group of volunteers to secure a grant for mental health programming. The entire county is included in all aspects of the three-year plan.

We are a community! All service and non-profit groups are working together to make and keep it the best! We are rural and thus dependent on volunteers from all areas to step forward and join in the fun. Plan to help make it a time of "wisdom." A little "foolishness" won't hurt either to make it the "best of times."

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Kathryn LeBrasseur is board president of the Alexandria Senior Center. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.