June deadline to raise $2 million for senior center

By Tammy Keith Originally Published April 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 24, 2013 at 10:11 a.m.
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Tammy Keith

From the left, Debra Robinson, executive director of the Conway Senior Wellness and Activity Center, stands with capital campaign co-chairwomen Lori Case Melton and Linda Linn after a news conference Monday to kick off the $2 million capital campaign. To date, $900,000 has been raised toward the purchase of the Agora Conference and Special Events Center in Conway, which officials say will meet the needs of a growing number of seniors in the community.

James McAlister of Conway said the senior citizens center saved his life.

McAlister, a widow, said that years ago, he found himself sitting “in an empty house, alone, lonely.”

He joked that he started going to the center because he envied the people eating the lunches while he was home eating frozen dinners.

The friendships and activities kept him going, he said.

McAlister, 67, spoke Monday at the $2 million capital-campaign kickoff at the Conway Senior Wellness and Activity Center, 1620 Donaghey Ave.

The Faulkner County Council on Aging Board of Directors signed a $1.95 million contract in February to buy the Agora Conference & Special Events Center on Siebenmorgen Road in Conway.

“It’s doable,” said Lori Case Melton, co-chairwoman of the campaign.

“Conway is known for making things happen,” she said.

That’s the slogan of the campaign: Make It Happen.

Organizers said $900,000 of the $2 million has been raised. The goal is to be finished by June and move into the facility over the summer.

The cost of new construction was estimated at $9 million, Melton said.

Debra Robinson, executive director of the senior center, said the program has run out of room.

“A building that was adequate in 1980 is no longer adequate because of the explosive growth of seniors,” she said.

“In 1980, we provided 27,000 meals to 200 seniors, and last year, we provided 131,000 meals to almost 2,000 seniors,” Robinson said.

Conway’s population, which is about 60,000, is projected to be 100,000 in 2023.

Of those, it’s projected that 25,000 will be seniors, Robinson said.

“My whole thing is I want to be prepared for future growth because I know the baby boomers are coming along,” Robinson said.

The senior center, which started in one room in the old hospital, moved and then in 1980 bought the former church on Donaghey Avenue. A couple of years later, the room in which the news conference was held was added.

The program offers a variety of speakers and activities, from line dancing to beanbag baseball, and all are held in that room.

“Right now, they set up, take down, set up, take

down,” Melton said.

In Agora, seniors will be able to participate in different activities at the same time in individual rooms, she said.

It will more than double the space of the center, from 9,446 to approximately 18,750 square feet.

The number of parking spaces will increase from 60 to 200 at Agora.

“Most seniors are active, they’re involved, and they want to participate to the fullest,” said Linda Linn, campaign co-chairwoman with Melton.

Conway Mayor Tab Townsell said the city is often praised for its parks and has nice subdivisions for families.

“Seniors bring resources to this community because of a lifetime of resource gathering,” Townsell said. “What are we doing for them?

“If we do not take care of those people in the latter stages of life, we rob from our community the resources of our community.

“Yes, it’s a wonderful community to raise children, but they bring a lot of grandparents. They, too, raise families. That’s a huge part of our community we have got to get right if we’re going to get community right.

“It’s time for Conway to step up, and this senior citizens center will allow it to,” Townsell said.

McAlister agreed.

“An upgrade is long overdue,” he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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