“We want people to be aware we have stayed open for 20 years and we can go another 20,” said Jill Andrea, a member of a volunteer group called Sparks Special Seniors, which helps keep the center in operation.
The caveat is that seniors need to continue utilizing the center, participating in activities and volunteering if they are able, she said.
“We want people to join groups and we need afternoon volunteers for the desk,” Andrea said. “We’re also looking for a tai chi instructor.”
Andrea said the Sparks Senior Center has been run entirely by volunteers since July 2010 when Washoe County could no longer afford to provide staffing. The city of Sparks maintains the grounds and the exterior of the building and the county pays for utilities and maintenance, but activities within the center are overseen entirely by volunteers.
“If it were not for the volunteers, this place would not be here,” said Grady Tarbutton, director of senior services for Washoe County.
Tarbutton explained that when funding was cut for the senior center, the volunteers who stepped forward to keep the building open made it very easy for the county to support their efforts.
“You stepped forward with volunteers and brought your friends,” Tarbutton said as he addressed a group of seniors Friday.
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini congratulated those who have kept the center alive and thanked them for their efforts.
“We would be in a lot of trouble without the volunteers,” Martini said. “I’m so proud of the people of Sparks, especially the seniors who step forward.”
Tarbutton said even though funds have been low for operation of the center, it has seen an increase in participation over the past two years. The senior lunch program has grown from an average of 18 participants to 40, he said.
Washoe County holds a contract with a catering company that provides senior lunches, Andrea said, and center volunteers continually strive to increase participation in that program. The senior lunch program is free to seniors and is funded by Washoe County, Older Americans Act dollars and donations from participants, Tarbutton said.
The Sparks Special Seniors on Friday threw an anniversary celebration that included entertainment, door prizes and refreshments. In addition, individuals and entities that help keep the center running were honored.
An acoustic duo led by Paul Covarelli, who entertains at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, performed, along with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) Kickers (dancers) and children from the First Church of God daycare center.
“We will be honoring food service people and our former maintenance man who retired when the county left,” Andrea said. “Well, ‘maintenance man’ is not the correct term. His name is Wish and he ran the place for 17 years.”
Andrea said the Sparks center has received assistance from a number of community partners, including the Sparks Greenbrae Lions, Sparks Rotary Club, the Sparks Department of Parks and Recreation, More to Life Adult Day Care, Bonaventure Independent Living, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Nevada State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), First Church of God, Scolari’s Market, Amy’s Flowers, Rail City Garden Center, Northern Nevada Alzheimer’s Association, the Sanford Center on Aging and NV Energy employees.
The Sparks Senior Center is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For those who attend functions at the facility, it’s a lifesaver. Two center-goers, Manuel and Rosaline Cano, said they visit the senior center weekly for lunch and to participate in a walking group.
“It’s a big help,” Rosaline said. “We have lunch, exercise and build up relationships. We aren’t alone or lonely and still active at our age. We love it and hope they don’t ever close it.”