Participants in the Hawaiian dance class taught by volunteer Jennifer Plumridge practise in the studio on the lower level of the Juan de Fuca Seniors Centre in Colwood. Plumridge is one of numerous volunteer instructors who teach about 90 different classes at the centre.

JDF seniors centre offers something for everyone (55-over)

Volunteer-driven organization features countless programs and activities

Stop by the Juan de Fuca 55-plus Seniors Activity Centre and you’ll find a bustling place.

Just before noon on a recent day, a couple of dozen people were chowing down on a nutritious, home cooked lunch in the main hall, another group was arriving for a contract bridge session and on the lower floor of the expansive building, still more people were practising Hawaiian dance wearing colourful leis and outfits.

It’s just another day at this Colwood recreational facility, say centre president Betty Smith and board member Evelyn Schumacher.

The association has around 1,300 members, each of whom brings their own life experiences to the table. Some are happy enough to simply participate in classes or activities at the centre, while others take their involvement a step further.

When the association gathered surveys as part of its annual membership drive this year, many people indicated they’d be willing to teach a class or lead a program, Smith said.

“Our membership chair was overwhelmed by the response,” she said.

At last count, the centre was offering 90 different classes, programs and groups, from numerous styles of dance to arts and crafts and fitness activities, all created by members who’ve shown an interest in them. “And if we don’t offer it, we ask people to bring it forward,” added Schumacher.

“All of our leaders are volunteers, nobody is paid to teach a class,” she said. “We have retired doctors, nurses and other retired professionals who just continue what they’re doing.”

Sometimes it’s a person who takes a course with West Shore Parks and Recreation with the idea in mind of teaching it, then brings that knowledge to the centre to offer a program.

The centre’s nordic pole walking leader did just that, learning from former Olympian Linda Schaumleffel, and has been adding classes of late due to its popularity.

Schumacher took a similar route with line dancing, and wound up teaching a class at the centre. She says people often bring in outside interests.

“The active people are active everywhere, but the people who say there’s nothing to do, well, that’s their choice,” she said.

That volunteer dynamic extends to the front office, the board of directors and all other aspects of the centre’s functions and activities. While West Shore Parks and Recreation owns the building and provides maintenance staff, anything to do with seniors services or activities is volunteer-based, which Smith believes makes this centre unique, at least in the Capital Region.

Even the bus drivers who transport centre members to various outings, from Chemainus Theatre day trips and Sunday dinners around the communities to multi-day, out-of-town excursions, volunteer their services.

In terms of membership, the average is as one might expect, in the 60s and 70s range, with retirees making up the bulk of members. That doesn’t stop still-working folks in their 50s from dropping in to take classes, Smith and Schumacher noted.

At the other end of the scale are the people who continue to stay active into their golden years.

“We have more than 30 over-90s,” Smith said. She noted that a special tea is in the works for that group, who enjoy the perk of free membership.

For others, not everything is included in the $101 annual membership fee. Meals at the kitchen, while extremely reasonably priced, fall into that category. And members are asked to chip a couple quarters or a loonie every so often into the box at the main entrance, not to mention contributing a few bucks for gas on outings involving the bus.

The membership fees go straight to West Shore Parks and Recreation to cover the cost of renting the building, but the little contributions here and there serve as the centre’s operating funds.

The hope is to find some significant donations in the next couple years for a larger project.

“We’re looking to raise around $80,000 to upgrade our kitchen, for a redesign,” Schumacher said. The cooking facilities in the roughly 40-year-old building have volunteers “running into each other” and could be a lot more efficient to handle the daily demand, she added.

In general, she and Smith said, the centre has provided a valuable service for the community.

“We have people who say the centre has been a lifesaver for them,” Smith said. She recalled one member who was new to the area, having moved here to be near her children. “(Joining the centre) gave her a reason to get out and be social.” Another woman, recently widowed, “tries to do two things a week” to keep busy, Smith added.

The president has been a member here since 2008 and recalls her fist visit to this busy hub of activities.

“I had a friend who lived here and my husband and I had just moved here from Edmonton,” she said. “We came, had a tour and that was it, we were sold.”

She soon recognized the unique nature of the organization, that anyone with a skill or talent they wish to share is encouraged to do so. Smith was a good organizer and before long found herself on the executive. Both she and Schumacher seem to enjoy giving back to the centre and helping it run smoothly and provide a great service for people 55 and over who are looking to keep their minds and bodies active.

“The more you put into an organization, the more you’re going to get out of it,” Smith said.

The centre’s newsletter, entitled Expressions, features details about numerous upcoming activities and news from past outings or classes. It is available in hard copy at the centre, 1767 Island Hwy., or online at the main website, by clicking Expressions on the menu bar.

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