It’s a place where more than 1,100 residents congregate every year, eating lunch, doing yoga, playing cards and making friends.
There’s a gift shop and a cafeteria, dances galore and pottery classes.
This is not a high school, it’s the Oswego Senior Center, where recently named Executive Director Sandra Pastore is working to provide resources and relationships with Oswego’s elderly residents.
“People come in and they don’t know each other, then they sit at a table, talk, trade numbers, and all of a sudden they have a friend checking in on them,” she said of the center’s benefit.
Pastore, who began volunteering at the Senior Center at Franklin and Washington streets in 2009 after moving to Oswego, said services offered at the center are invaluable and crucial for the well-being of retired residents.
“There’s all of this talk about how you need together time and alone time. How do you get that (together time) as a retired person?” Pastore said.
Children go to school, adults go to work, but “when you retire into the abyss, how do you have purposeful interactions with people?”
That’s the question Pastore has spent her life figuring out, working with homeless, mentally ill and elderly people since she started her professional career on Chicago’s South Side.
Pastore temporarily retired in the early 2000s to spend time at home raising her children, but quickly learned that her drive to help others was just as much a priority, she said.
She began working as part of the center’s Senior Advisory Commission after seeing a newspaper story advertising a need for volunteers. She then spent more time at the center as a bingo caller before transitioning into bigger roles.
“I started developing programs and looking to see what the community wanted and desired,” she said. “I used the knowledge base I had (from previous work) to give me extra insight…My work gave me clinical skills and understanding of how to work with limitations through underlying strengths people have.”
One of Pastore’s proudest initiatives since she began working at the center has been an intergenerational program that kicked-off at the end of the last school year.
Seniors spend once a week visiting Prairie Point Elementary School reading, teaching and talking to the children.
“The kids love it, the seniors love it, and the teachers love it,” Pastore said. “I really believe in community connectivity. In this world, we hardly know our neighbors. How can we have community connections like we used to when we’re so spread out, even though we’re so close?”
She said the Senior Center is a place where residents can come to forge those community connections.
In addition to building relationships, seniors can also build their bank of knowledge regarding finances, medical issues and insurance information. There are caregiver classes, and an educational series focusing on financial education and body aging issues.
But, there are also more off the cuff initiatives. With the assistance of high school students, Pastore is starting a podcast which will allow seniors to share their legacy stories. Seniors host a giant garage sale, attend a Valentine’s Dance and are treated to a culinary expo.
“We try to make it all pretty affordable,” Pastore said, as she looked out upon a crowded cafeteria, full of food and friendly chatter.
A lot of that affordability, however, depends on volunteers, like Pastore, who started years ago as that Bingo caller.
“We say we’re a volunteer-driven machine,” she said. “Kitchen leaders, program leaders, all volunteers. We couldn’t do it without them.”
hed: Senior Center history
The origins of the Oswego Senior Center began in August 2007 when the village of Oswego’s Senior Advisory Council started a meal program with funding from the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging in the basement of Good Shepherd Church.
To comply with state and local laws and regulations, the advisory council began offering Bingo and Bunco games in conjunction with the meals and included educational and nutritional talks, according to the senior center.
The program became so popular, it had to move from the Good Shepherd Church. In 2009 the village entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the Oswego School District, which let to the establishment of the center at the Old Traughber School at Franklin and Washington streets.
For information on the Senior Center, or how to volunteer, visit the Oswego Senior Center web site.
–Oswego Senior Center builds community by building relationships-