Socially Speaking

Greenwood organization gives seniors a place to meet

By Rebecca Berfanger

About 10 years ago, Fay Jarosz was driving down Polk Road in Greenwood when she noticed the sign for The Social of Greenwood. She had just moved from her home in northern Indiana to Greenwood to live with her son but wanted to have more social interaction. She decided to stop in and have a look around.

The visit led Jarosz to volunteer at The Social’s resale shop that, at the time, helped raise money for The Social, which is a nonprofit organization. Working in the resale shop allowed her to meet and interact with other seniors. She later started volunteering as a receptionist for the organization, and she continued to engage with The Social’s community of other active seniors.

Nearly 10 years later, Jarosz now volunteers as the receptionist one day every week; she oversees two bingo events each week. She also is a member of The Social’s chapter of the Red Hat Society, which helps support its food pantry and sponsors a child through United Way’s Christmas Angels; she has traveled with other members of The Social as far as Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and throughout Indiana. And, she says, she enjoys being able to spend time with the friends she has met through the organization.

“People are really nice here and so friendly,” Jarosz says. “We get to be social, so we’re not alone. I’ve made a lot of friends here.”

On the days when she is volunteering at the receptionist desk, she is one of the first people prospective members meet when they find out about the building at 550 Polk Road.

“I’ll give them a folder and take them on a tour,” she says, including “the puzzle area and the library.” She’ll also tell them about the different groups, such as the women’s group and the woodcarving group, “depending on their interests.”

Life stories

Andrea Sutherland, executive director of The Social, says that Jarosz’s story is pretty typical: Seniors who move to the area or are from central Indiana hope to meet new people or be more active with others who are 50 and older, with an average age of about 73. She adds that although The Social’s membership used to be primarily Johnson County residents, ever since another senior center closed in Indianapolis in 2012, they’ve seen an influx of Marion County residents. Some of the members come from Bartholomew and other counties.

“We try to navigate with them into what would be their best fit,” Sutherland says. “Some people say, ‘I have five friends tell me to come here because they play cards here,’ and I have some who come in and say, ‘I lost my wife 10 years ago, and I’m lonely and want something to do.’”

Sutherland is one of two full-time employees; the other is operations manager Ashley Koval. Sutherland and Koval rely on 55 volunteers, such as Jarosz, to help keep things going at The Social, now at a membership of about 1,100.

“We like to joke that we have 1,000 grandparents,” says Sutherland, “but I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

Anytime someone new visits, Koval, Sutherland, Jarosz or any of the volunteers are right there to provide tours and information.

“We want our doors open to meet the new people,” says Sutherland. “We’ll ask, ‘What brought you here, what are you interested in?’ We’ll try to play the middleman to figure out what groups to put them in because no matter how old you are, it’s still overwhelming to meet new people.” She compared it to starting over at a new middle school.

However, she says, the current members of The Social and volunteers, many of them members themselves, “are so nice and welcoming that when new people do come in, they get excited. They’ll ask, ‘What’s your name? Sit with us, tell us what you’ve done in your life.”

Board President Keri Brantley echoes the sentiment. After being asked to be on the Fund Development Committee a couple of years ago, she first learned what the organization was doing for seniors.

“The culture is such a warm, loving culture,” Brantley says. “Andrea just embraces the seniors, and Ashley is a great fit as well. They are a dynamic duo and have the seniors’ best interests at heart.”

The Social offers many opportunities for members: monthly trips with a tour guide to different Indiana locales, including the popular casino trips; trips out of state, including one this fall to the Pacific Northwest; different card groups, including a euchre game that brings in up to 70 people on Tuesdays; the flourishing woodcarving group; assorted exercise classes; cooking classes; a massage therapist on site; the ability to volunteer, including at the food pantry that serves about 600 families of all ages in Johnson County; a daily nutritionally balanced lunch provided by the Central Indiana Council on Aging; and the Rock Steady Boxing class for members with Parkinson’s disease.

The in crowd

The Social is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but, Sutherland says, it’s the relationships that carry on outside the building that show the importance of The Social to its members.

“Some of them end up going to dinner after we close or going to the movies with friends,” she says, “while others will host card games and lunch at their homes” with the people they’ve met at The Social. “It’s not just within these four walls. I love that they have interactions throughout the weekends or evenings.”

“I love that what we do is so accessible in the types of programming and services, especially for seniors who might be by themselves a majority of the time,” Brantley added.

While the cost of a membership is only $18 a year for members with a Greenwood address and $21 a year for everyone else, they offset operating costs with grants, fundraising and sponsorships. If seniors have trouble paying the membership fee, The Social will also try to work with them.

Raising funds and awareness

Other than the daily activities that can attract up to 200 members on some days and have been welcoming one or two new members every day, The Social hosts off-campus events and fundraisers throughout the year.

One of the upcoming fundraisers for the 501(c)3 organization, a purse bingo that will take place in April at the Barn at Bay Horse Inn, where participants win a designer purse for each bingo, sold out its 300 tickets within the first week after they became available. Sutherland says there are plans for another purse bingo event in August.

On May 3 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Gathering Place in Greenwood, The Social will host its 20th annual Senior Expo. Sutherland says about 100 vendors, all vetted by The Social, will be on hand. In past years, about 1,000 seniors attended, many of them prepared with questions for the vendors and lists of whom they want to meet at the expo.

Even if a member of The Social needs help finding a service outside the Expo, Sutherland adds, such as a handyman or someone to paint a house, she can refer someone she knows is trustworthy. She can even call the company ahead of time as a courtesy to the member.

You never stop growing

The Social is also in the process of raising funds to help the building better suit the needs of the quickly growing organization. The building, formerly a preschool, includes several small spaces, but Sutherland says they are currently researching what would be feasible for the space.

For instance, the small gym is large enough for small classes, but the Rock Steady Boxing program, the only one in Johnson County, started in 2014 with five boxers and now has about 70 participants. Sutherland anticipates that number will continue to grow as they communicate more with neurologists and primary care physicians who may have patients with Parkinson’s disease. A larger space could help benefit more people.

“I would say we’re just really on the cusp of (The Social’s membership) really exploding, which is what makes the expansion vitally important,” Brantley says. “We consistently keep increasing membership every month, especially under Andrea’s leadership. I think programs like this become increasingly important as baby boomers are living longer and healthier because of access to care. They need something like The Social to keep them healthier and happier.”