Watching Juanita Preuitt’s fingers dance over the piano keys as she plays a World War-era tune her brother taught her, you wouldn’t know she just got out of an arthritis class. When she finishes playing “J.C.’s Boogie,” she rises to applause and cheers echoing throughout the cavernous lobby.
“Today, I am 91 years old,” she says, beaming as a fellow member of Senior Action takes over the keys to play a quick “Happy Birthday.”
Preuitt is nearly twice the age of the organization marking its 55th anniversary this year.
These days, the nonprofit serves roughly 5,000 seniors in nine locations throughout Greenville County. Each day, an average of 500 members visit the campus at 3715 E. North St. in Greenville, says Andrea Smith, who has served as executive director and CEO since 2007.
Its services are open only to those ages 55 and older, she says, adding, “The weird thing is that I am starting to be old enough to be a member.”
For $120 a year, members enjoy more than 300,000 hours of classes and activities annually, from history to healthy living, as well as a mind-boggling array of things to do: playing in Senior Action’s 50-piece Big Band, which occasionally performs outside gigs; painting or making pottery in the arts studio; and gathering for dominoes or bridge, to name just a fraction. (Preuitt says the couple that drove her from her Greer home plans to bring her back the next day for a drum circle.)
Offsite, Senior Action provides medical transportation, home-meal delivery and lawn-care services, among others. Most recently, Senior Action purchased an apartment complex in Greer to provide senior housing.
“I love the fact that we make a lot of people’s lives a lot better,” Smith says, while also reminding visitors that Senior Action doesn’t include the word “Center.”
“‘Senior Action isn’t a building; Senior Action is a force,’” she recalls a board member telling her. “We are a place that people can call a home. They come here and they make friends. They celebrate birthdays. They celebrate lives that have been lost. They play, they laugh. And you need a building to kind of give you an identity, but we’re also a force that helps people.”
In 2019, Senior Action purchased an old shopping center that once housed a furniture store and a nightclub. The organization uses tenants’ rents to supplement financing that comes largely from state and federal grants for its $2 million annual budget.
The previous space, behind the post office on Orchard Park Road, was half the size of its new 35,000-square-foot home.
“When we first moved into this building,” Smith recalls, “a lady stopped me in the hall and she said, ‘This building makes me feel important.’”
Reaching out to seniors is becoming more important than ever, Smith says.
While membership has exploded 200% over the last three years, Smith says some 72,000 seniors call Greenville County home; Senior Action’s membership roll constitutes less than 7% of that.
“That number kind of drives me,” she says. “You start realizing that our population is dramatically shifting toward this age group, and the amount of services and resources that we’re going to need to accommodate that shift is not keeping up at all.”
Meanwhile, she stops to watch Preuitt entertain the crowd and beams when Preuitt says, “I like the fellowship of people and try to be an encouragement to others as they are to me, rather than just sit at home all the time. It gives me a break from staying at home all the time working jigsaw puzzles.”
“That,” Smith says, “perfectly sums up the mission of Senior Action.”
As for the organization’s next half-century?
“I feel like there’s always going to be a need for people to have an outlet for human connection. I think that’s built into who we are as human beings,” she says. “So I think regardless of how this may change, there’s always going to be a need for what we do.”
1967: A group of community leaders starts the Greenville Area Action Council on Aging.
1968: The Greenville Senior Center, the first of its kind here, opens in downtown Greenville, with funds from First Baptist Greenville, Buncombe Street United Methodist, First Presbyterian, Christ Church Episcopal and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
1973: The Greenville Area Action Council on Aging and Greenville Senior Center merge to form Senior Action.
1976: Senior Action moves to McBee Avenue in downtown Greenville.
2006: Senior Action moves to Orchard Park/Directors Drive.
2007: Andrea Smith becomes executive director and CEO.
2019: Senior Action purchases a shopping center on East North Street.
April 2021: Senior Action opens its newly renovated 35,000-square-foot headquarters there.
September 2021: Fine Arts Center classes begin.
Today: With nine locations across Greenville County serving more than 5,000 people ages 55 and older, Senior Action also provides more than $2 million worth of free services each year while advocating for more affordable housing, transportation options, food security, quality of life and access to services.
Source: Senior Action