Carolyn L. Higgins – Contributing Writer

Many seniors have become intimately involved with their local representatives, getting out of their comfort zone and sharing thoughts for improving “their” facility – the Dorothy and John Crawford Senior Center. They are a product of the growth and although they invite their neighbors and friends and welcome new members, they feel the pinch and picture a new and improved facility better able to provide more services for all. Whether calling, emailing, or writing, they have expressed their desires for expansion or a new facility to replace the present center.

Commissioners and clients have their say

Macon County Commissioner Jim Tate recently visited the center and detailed his surprise about the great programs and activities and the sacrifices made by the volunteers. He shared his thoughts in the opening comments of the May 8 Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting. During the “angst and excitement of election day” as he pointed out, he made it a priority to speak on behalf of the center. He first acknowledged the volume of phone calls that most likely all the commissioners have been receiving, then described his visit.  

“I decided it was time for me to go visit. So I made a phone call and set up a little time … to see and tour the facilities,” said Tate. “They were having bingo day; I was able to tour that and the Adult Care facility. I hate to admit it as chairman of the board but I will. I was in awe at how busy they were; I had to circle the parking lot twice to look for parking – that type of thing. I was enamored with how many volunteers give up their time literally on a daily basis to help that facility function along.” 

Tate encouraged his fellow commissioners to take advantage of the eye-opening experience he had received by taking 30 minutes to tour the facility during the work week and see what’s happening in there. 

“I understand their phone calls now and why they are saying they need an expansion, they need a larger facility, and I will definitely be a proponent of that moving forward.” 

Many seniors depend on the skilled assistance that is available. 

“The senior center helps with your healthcare Part D and just about everything else,” said Carol Hyatt. “It is very good and it is a blessing and I am glad to be able to participate.” 

Shirley and Eugene Passmore have been married for 59 years and have been visiting the center for more than 10 years. “The building is not big enough and we need parking lot spaces,” said Passmore. She enjoys the company and the meals but is concerned about summer when seniors park at the school and struggle to walk that far away.     

Jack DeBetta, originally from New York, is one of the seniors who made phone calls. 

“I talked to all the commissioners,” said DeBetta. “I said we’re going to need more room for parking and because there are a lot of people here who are moving up from Florida. I also told them I’m a veteran and I was in the service, and I have been here over 10 years.” 

DeBetta started bringing his wife to adult daycare and knows a great many people and feels a kinship. “And I’m the only Jack here so that’s how everybody knows me by Jack. If there’d be another Jack I’d be surprised.”

Although he traveled the world in his 30-year career as a Merchant

Marine, Will Lupton found a second home in Franklin and at the center.

“I feel like a lot of seniors,” said Lupton. “I said God sent me here,

this is God’s country. I love the place, because the people are so

nice and kind, and they don’t use profanity or talk about people. Don

Capaforte, administrative officer of the Crawford Senior Center

expressed the same sentiment, noting the center focuses on a positive

upbeat attitude, led by a staff of some with more than 20 years of service.

“They try and love and work together on everything,” said Lupton. He

is concerned about growth and the roundabouts slated to be built at the intersections on both sides of the center. 

“We’re growing. I believe we have five new people that signed up this week,” said Lupton. “With these roundabouts, we’ll have to get used to taking our time and slowing down. I know there’s money and procedures, but we’ve never bought a new building before. We need one.”

Macon County Manager Derek Roland wanted the seniors to know they are

being heard.

 “The Senior Center replacement has been included in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for consideration,” said Roland.

“I can say with certainty that the Senior Center has experienced much growth in recent years, requiring us to have to take measures such as securing additional parking with adjoining properties, increasing staffing etc. One area where we have been extremely blessed however is with the numerous amount of volunteers that donate their time and

effort to the operations of the Senior Center.  With all that being said, the need for a new Senior Center, like other needs listed in the Capital Improvement Plan will be a topic for board consideration as discussions surrounding the CIP progress.”

“Bustin’ out of the seams”

Exponential growth can be good in some arenas but when it

exceeds all expectations and projections, it can be challenging. 

“With only 15 working days since May 1, we’ve had 40 new clients since

then. That’s unprecedented,”  said Capaforte.

“I haven’t gotten the figures this month. But as of last month one year ago from April 2017 to April 2018, we have had over 400 [new] clients sign up,” said Capaforte. “Now that doesn’t mean they all come at once, but people sign up that would like to at some time participate in the activities here.” 

That is a total of 1,537 compared to 1,137 last year.

Capaforte acknowledges the center is up against other funding needs but believes the vitality of Franklin is also connected to the sought-after lifestyles of its vibrant senior population. 

“It goes back to that saying from the movie, ‘Field of Dreams,’ If you build it, they will come,” said Capaforte. When they first moved into this building, the question was how were they going to utilize the space that had increased from 5,000 square feet (near the old Wal-Mart Shopping Center) to the present 16,000 square feet here. “So we tripled in space, and in less than eight years, we’ve outgrown it – already ‘busting out the seams.’ So, if we build a bigger senior center, people are going to move here because it is such a wonderful place, and it will increase our tax base.”

Good meal deals, transportation options and wish list

When potential members hear about the different activities and learn they can come to the center and be safe while enjoying companionship, camaraderie and a good meal, it is very appealing. Seniors can feast on a good lunch for a great price of $5.25, or apply for the congregate meal program to pay nothing or as little as $1.50 if they qualify. The general public may also call a day ahead and make a reservation to dine for the same $5.25. As seniors learn about the transportation program, it may inspire them to get out. 

“People don’t want to sit at home … and be lonely and they have transit that will come pick them up,” said Capaforte.  So, it’s not like I have no way of getting fellowship with other people, because I can’t drive anymore. If you can get out your front door and get on a bus, they [Macon County Transit] will help you.” There are also buses that are equipped to help the wheelchair bound and bring them to the center. Participants may qualify for a grant for different levels of pay from donation to $2.50 each way, depending on age and income.  

A plan was submitted prior to Capaforte’s arrival that included a basketball area; a pickle ball court; and a walking track. The present location has nowhere for seniors to walk and being right downtown, it’s too busy.  A request for a larger dining room is also included.  Seniors have said they like the fellowship, but need “elbow room.” 

“The max that we can seat comfortably is 75,” said Capaforte. “We don’t want to have to turn people away.”  

Some activities such as arts and crafts are challenging due to limited space or are only offered at certain times on certain days. More space would allow for better scheduling options and more activities.  

A critical service of the center is the adult day care. 

“We need more room for adults that are developmentally disabled for one reason or another whether it is brain injury, autism, Down Syndrome or Alzheimer’s,” said Capaforte.  He stressed the need to grow for those with mentally incapacitating conditions.   

“I want to continue to make it grow and to be even better, so that when I get ready to retire . . . I want to come here,” said Capaforte. “This is a place I want to be.  As seniors we don’t want to keep this to ourselves, and as we share and invite others, we have to be prepared for the expansion.”

“The senior center is a hidden gem,” said Kim Crawford, Senior Center Coordinator. “Macon County has a senior center that offers a safe secure environment for people 50 and over to socialize, exercise, learn new hobbies and eat a hot lunch all for free or a small donation. As more baby boomers are finding this gem, the interest in all we have to offer is growing but our rooms are not. We are looking forward to a new larger state-of-the-art building hopefully in the near future.”  

A great draw for retirees and snowbirds

“This is basically a retirement area, and we have easy access to Atlanta,” said Capaforte. “I tell everybody, If you leave this place, the only direction you can go and not cross a mountain is to head to Atlanta. People are coming from the South. That’s why on Fridays, the line is so long coming into Franklin, because people are coming here for the weekend.  Well, when they come here for the weekend and when they see how pretty it is and all the activities, and we’ve got the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts and different things to attract them. So, then they get a second home and when they come of age, they retire and they sell the home and they wind up here.” Capaforte says they’re going to spend their money, stay, and help improve the economy by creating and sustaining businesses.   

“The demand is even greater this time of year for our services because they come up from Florida. If I had a second place south, I’d go to it. But I’m here, and I’m 58 now, but I plan to retire here. He experiences firsthand the feedback from clients regarding the customer service of the staff that are genuinely interested in caring.”

Clients chose to share their feedback in different ways. One lady in her 70s came to Capaforte’s office, catching him off guard when she lay down on the floor without notice. “She said ‘watch this,’ and she got down on the ground and laid down flat,” said Capaforte. “And then she said: “Several months ago, I couldn’t do that. If I got down on the ground without somebody helping me, or if I had tripped and fallen, I had to lie there until somebody could come and help me up.” She wanted to demonstrate what the Center had helped her be better for her grandkids.

  Different seniors have expressed their affinity for Tai Chi, yoga, and the new pool table – that draws both men and women. They enjoy the freedom of being able to come in and choose certain activities or coming to a nice quiet place to read or just to hang out. Some seniors have expressed the desire for a “real library” and computer room away from the highly populated lobby area.

  Jean and Julian White both widowed recently married and were celebrated by the center family. White shared that she and her late husband had no relatives but soon made good friends at the center. She kept coming and now she and White enjoy “so many things that are good for us if we only take advantage of it.” 

“In the summer, all those Florida people come up here and it is really hard to park,” said White. “I believe the parking is almost as vital as the sitting inside. When they don’t have school, some people park at the school and walk over.”  

  Capaforte and staff are glad the seniors have taken on their own advocacy and are so passionate about the center. He feels with their energy and concern, as devoted staff and the growing interest from the county, the center will be a better place for seniors when he reaches retirement age.

“It is a fact that our population is living longer,” said Macon County Commissioner Gary Shields. “Serving our senior citizens in a quality manner is of utmost importance. I feel the commissioners are in the thinking mode of where do we go from here, meaning the Crawford Senior Center expansion. The leadership and volunteers serving the Crawford Senior Center have set a high bar for us and we need to capture this energy and move forward.”

  For more information on programs and services, visit the Crawford Senior Center Facebook page or call (828) 349-2058.