Senior Action offers myriad services—and a place to belong—for Greenville’s fastest-growing demographic

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Community Foundation of GreenvilleSenior Action’s calendar is packed with fun things to do from arts and music to fitness and games. But a conversation with members reveals that while they all have their favorite activities, what really draws this diverse group to what one described as their “Country Club for people of modest means” is the chance to spend time with like-minded friends choosing to live full, active lives after retirement.

Pat Hudson, 72, a former administrative assistant at GHS, worked with spreadsheets on the job, but after retirement she took up painting and found she had a knack. Now she teaches art classes at Senior Action.

“It’s so much fun for me. What I missed most about working was friendship with other ladies; I have that here,” she said, adding that she’s now walking three times a week and has lost 30 pounds.

Fitness is also important to Mabel Branch, 74, who described herself as “the track person,” because she recently won three medals at the Senior Games. She also enjoys line dance, drum circle, and the auctions held every other Friday.

“We watch out for each other,” said Lenny Wichmann, 71, who comes with his wife, Shirley. “It’s been proven when you keep seniors active, there’s a huge payback for society.”

Executive Director Andrea Smith agrees, noting that seniors are Greenville County’s fastest-growing age group. According to census estimates from July 2018, 15.4 percent of the population is over 65 years old. Senior Action receives funding from United Way, the State Department on Aging, and other donors, but often struggles to gain support for growing needs.

“When you look at levels of charitable giving to help senior citizens, it’s the lowest priority,” Smith said. “Everybody in nonprofit gravitates toward children and education before elderly people, thinking programs like Social Security will take care of them. But a lot of needs are not met through government programs. When we invest in programs and facilities to keep them as healthy and engaged as possible, the community benefits in so many ways. It makes sense to invest in seniors.”

The Community Foundation has made several grants to Senior Action over the years, including one in 2007 that would now be described as an impact investment, said Bob Morris, CFG president.

“We made a bridge loan when their current office was relocated to Orchard Park, then agreed to forgive the loan when Senior Action’s board agreed to implement key findings from its strategic plan,” he said. “Our recent grant will help update its technology platform to serve the fastest growing demographic in Greenville County – adults over 55.”

Senior Action has since outgrown the Orchard Park location and is in the process of purchasing and remodeling a new building to replace it. The nonprofit, which was serving 900 participants when it moved there in 2007, is now approaching 5,000 members. Greenville Women Giving recently awarded $100,000 to construct state-of-the-art music and art studios in the new flagship center.

“What I love about the Greenville Women Giving grants is that they offer fewer large grants versus more grants of a smaller amount,” Smith said. “The process is competitive, but when you get one, the impact is community-changing. You’ve got to have big investments for big ideas.”

Senior Action has embraced many big ideas since its founding in 1967 by five downtown churches. The nonprofit now has 10 locations across the county providing increased access to exercise, good nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle, social support and mental stimulation, information about financial planning, and opportunities to feel needed through volunteering. Other services include home-delivered meals, minor home repair, lawn service, and medical transportation.

“Philanthropy has a huge impact on what we can provide,” Smith said. “There’s a lot to Senior Action. What you see is just the tip of the iceberg—there’s so much more below the surface.”

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