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Cheers to 50 years! Friendship Centre celebrates 50th anniversary



By Emily Stewart

The Friendship Centre was filled with memories of the past 50 years as well as visitors, volunteers and staff.

The centre celebrated 50 years on June 19 with lots of opportunities to socialize, reminisce and enjoy cake and ice cream. The Friendship Centre also celebrated a 20th-anniversary milestone, as it has been at its current location on 317 St. James St. S since June 18, 2004.

The facility had a memory wall where guests wrote down their favourite memories, a slideshow with photos from over the years and a table full of memorabilia like scrapbooks and photo albums. Guests who were either strangers to each other or friends interacted with one another in the friendly atmosphere.

The Friendship Centre serves adults who are 50 years old and over and people with varying abilities such as those recovering from a significant illness or injury. However, anyone of any age interested in the programming can participate by paying a non-member admission fee.

Alfreda Barron and her niece Jane Cousineau were some of the first guests to arrive at the afternoon celebration. Barron was part of the Dandy Dancers, volunteered and was a tour guide for the day trips. She still participates in the Friendship Centre’s programming when she can and will use their at-home services such as shopping services and Meals on Wheels.

"I don't know what I'd do without this place,” Barron said. “Because, if I tell them that I can't go somewhere because I don't feel well, they say, ‘Do you need any help?’ They’re always there to offer to make sure you're looked after."

Cousineau participated in the exercise groups and scrapbooking events, as well as the health clinics. Her mother was also one of the Dandy Dancers and her grandmother was the first Friendship Centre president when it was at Cadzow Park.

"It's a nice, social place to come because they have good meals here and that sort of stuff,” Cousineau said.

Roly Crowder likes to meet new people and joke around with the residents. He appreciates the staff and the volunteers that shape the Friendship Centre.

"St. Marys is one of the luckiest communities in the area to have this facility because other towns have got nothing close to it,” Crowder said.

Jenny Mikita, St. Marys’ senior services manager, has been with the Friendship Centre for over two decades, both in the previous facility and the current one at the Pyramid Recreation Centre. She had a hard time picking just one memory, but fondly remembers the craft shows, volunteer-appreciation events, fundraisers, galas and day-to-day interactions.

"Some of my favourite memories are with my co-workers and the volunteers that support the Friendship Centre,” Mikita said. “We have a lot of different programs and a lot of different events and, in all honesty, usually they're all quite fun."

The Friendship Centre has a variety of programming to match anyone’s interest and hobbies, all with the goal of encouraging social time.

“It’s important to engage people to reduce social isolation because social isolation is really detrimental sometimes with people's health,” Mikita said. “You become isolated and it's hard to get out of your house. It's hard to keep well. It's hard to keep fit. It's hard to be mentally well, so being socially active through outlets that we offer is a great way to keep fit."

Social isolation was a huge concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the lockdowns. Mikita said the Friendship Centre made sure its members were still supported and engaged by running virtual programs on their Facebook page, delivering meals and calling the residents to check in on them. The centre also ran in-person activities within the group size limits when those were enforced.

"If we could run a program, we were running a program,” she said. “So, if it’s in July of 2021 and we were allowed to have 12 people in the same space together, we were running a campfire outside just to encourage people to get out of their home."

More information about the Friendship Centre and upcoming programming can be found by visiting www.townofstmarys.com/en/recreation-and-culture/Friendship-Centre.

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