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For half a century, the St. Marys Friendship Centre has offered social, educational, recreational and support programming for seniors



By Galen Simmons

The St. Marys Friendship Centre has been a unique resource for seniors in town for the past 50 years.

Unlike in other places, the friendship centre offers a mix of programming and services aimed at meeting a wide range of needs, from helping to support seniors at home to ensuring they remain healthy, active and connected with the community.

“The Friendship Centre offers a variety of recreational, leisure, educational, social and community support services for this community,” said St. Marys senior services manager Jenny Mikita. “We’re the active living centre for St. Marys and we’re also the community support services provider for St. Marys. So, we’re a little unique because if you were to go to a different community, you might find your seniors centre in a different facility and your Meals On Wheels in a separate facility. We’re all under the same umbrella here.”

From music programming including the Friendship Centre Choir to community dining programs, different levels of fitness programming, speciality programs like ballroom dancing, line dancing, zoomba and everything in between, Mikita says staff is constantly looking for new ways to support seniors based on suggestions from the community, funding received that is geared toward specific programming and trends in seniors programming.

“This morning, for example, we had a Level 2 seated fitness program in our space, we had a Knit and Chat program, we had quilting, we had pickleball, we had a music program called Jamboree, which attracts musicians and participants not just from St. Marys but from the surrounding area to come jam. We’re setting up for a dinner, we had chair yoga, we have a genealogy program tonight, you name it. … There’s something for everyone.”

The idea behind providing programming and services for seniors under one roof at the Pyramid Recreation Centre is to reduce social isolation among the older-adult population by giving them the chance to meet others and stay connected with the community.

“There are a lot of new residents in St. Marys who we’ve met throughout the pandemic and after, and this is where they’re coming to meet their social needs,” Mikita said. “They’re making their friends here, they’re learning new things, they’re becoming active. Activity and reduction in social isolation are so good for mental health. If you’re busy, you’re mentally healthier, physically healthier and, overall, wellness is high. We see a lot of happiness here.

“This is their home away from home, or this is where they spend every Tuesday, or they come here three times a week.”

Mikita says the friendship centre wouldn’t be able to offer the programming and services it does without the help of its more than 230 volunteers. Volunteers help lead the programming, they organize events, they help out in the kitchen and they support town staff in so many other ways.

“We would not have the level of programming that we have without the volunteer support that we have,” Mikita said. “Everything we do is touched by a volunteer at the end of the day. Meals On Wheels are delivered because we have Meals On Wheels volunteers. Our fitness classes are available as often as they are because we have highly skilled volunteers who are interested in continuing their learning and they teach fitness. For our Jamboree that’s happening right now, we have volunteers who are organizing musicians and welcoming people at the door. We’ve got volunteers setting tables for dinner tonight and volunteers in the kitchen helping to cook the meal. Everything we do is supported by our awesome volunteers.”

While the friendship centre does charge membership fees, seniors don’t need to be members to participate in programming. And while various programs and services do have costs associated with them, the Town of St. Marys’ Access to Recreation grant provides financial support to help residents who can’t afford to otherwise participate in recreation, leisure, arts and culture programming, including everything offered through the friendship centre.

The best way to find out about all the programs and services offered through the friendship centre is to visit www.townofstmarys.com/en/recreation-and-culture/Friendship-Centre.aspx and sign up for the monthly newsletter. The friendship centre also has an email-subscription list with weekly email blasts about upcoming programs and services and a Facebook page with updates and information about programs and services.

For those who are unsure about whether there is anything for them happening at the friendship centre, Mikita urges them to call 519-284-3272 to arrange a private tour of the centre and speak to staff about what programs or services might be a good fit.

This year, the St. Marys Friendship Centre is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is inviting the community to celebrate that milestone with a piece of cake during a friendship centre open house between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. June 19 – another great opportunity to see what the centre has to offer.

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