The Excelsior Springs Senior Center could not operate without volunteers giving their hearts and time to help keep the place running.
According to Director Jeff Barge, the center “literally would not operate” without two very special individuals.
“If we didn’t have either one of those, we wouldn’t have a senior center right now,” he said.
Jeffrey Keller and Sandra Hughes started volunteering in the fall. Hughes said she began doing simple tasks in the dining room and worked her way into the kitchen. She said she began volunteering after realizing how short staffed the center could be. She wanted to do anything she could do to help, Hughes said, and soon realized she loved “slinging hash.”
Volunteering gives her the opportunity to help those who cannot always cook for themselves, she said. The more hands that pitch in, the sooner they can feed everyone.
Keller said he learned the center needed help from a couple at his church and he came back to speak with Barge about volunteering. After his wife passed away, he said volunteering gave him something to do.
Barge said volunteering helps Keller feel like he’s doing something positive. For many, spending three hours at a senior center sounds like work. However, Barge said it gives Keller a sense of purpose.
Keller comes in every day from his home in Kearney to volunteer. Barge said Keller arrives around 9:45 a.m. each morning to make the coffee. He’s only missed about one day in the past five months, which Barge said he describes as extraordinary.
“This keeps me busy,” Keller said. “I’ve made new friends and reacquainted with old people I knew here. I enjoy doing it and whatever it takes we’ll do it to get (the job) done.”
Hughes said she, Keller and Barge just meshed as a team. They can tackle just about anything thrown at them in the senior center kitchen.
At times, they may only be a couple of people volunteering in the kitchen, she said. The team meshed so well, they got the job done.
Barge said Hughes also works five days per week at the center. She even came to work after foot surgery. Barge said she would wheel herself around the kitchen on her knee scooter.
“She’s more in charge in the kitchen than I am,” he said.
Hughes said people who volunteer will feel much better after they start helping other people. They may not think volunteering will feel so good, she said, but it will. It will give them “the feel goods.”
Besides, she said, many hands lighten the load.
Keller said he worked a mass food drive for 13 years. He said he and his wife used to work together to hand out commodity boxes to seniors.
He said he likes to see people investing in other’s lives. If he can provide any words of encouragement, that’s just fine with him.
Volunteers will make friends too, he said. He and Hughes became friends since they both began volunteering at the center. The center provides a place for those who may be lonely to come and make new friends.
The senior center volunteers do work needing to be done, he said, but they also spend time with those who visit.
Hughes said volunteers help in all types of ways at the center. From fitness classes to concerts, volunteers do it all.
In between the tasks, she said, the volunteers, staff and guests become family.
“It gets them out of the house,” she said “It brings them in where they can have camaraderie. The hardest part is (getting) them here.”
The senior center family will “circle the wagons” to help anyone who needs it, she said.
People come in from all parts of the community, Keller said. Some come with various types of disabilities. Others in the center will help get them what they need, he said.
“It’s a place that you can make new friends and I always felt that anytime you make a friend, you’re investing in your life and you’re investing in their life too.”
Sometimes people need to not ask what they can gain from an experience, Keller said, but rather, what can they can do for someone else.
Hughes said her son currently suffers from stage-four liver cancer. When her center family discovered it, they all began circling around her.
“It’s family,” she said.
Keller said the experiences gained can also be amusing. Once, a lady ordered rose bushes. He asked her if she needed rabbit droppings to use as fertilizer, he said with a laugh. Keller ended up bringing her some droppings from his son’s rabbits.
The same lady spoke with Hughes about her plants. Hughes said she told the lady, who recently moved to the area, she should order plants from an Oregon company. The lady just looked at me, Hughes said, describing it as funny the lady had just moved from Oregon.
Hughes said one group of nine seniors act as the “rowdy bunch.” After eating a meal, the group always fills the room with loud voices, she said. “They even caught Jeff Barge (and) told him they found a roach in his food and it was April Fool’s Day,” she said laughing.
Barge said Keller and Hughes make up only a part of his more than 10 volunteers. Each and every one of them makes up an essential part in making the center successful. He said he wants to thank them all for making the Senior Center a better place.
Keller and Hughes said they simply want to invite the community to come to visit them, as a volunteer or simply a guest. The “friendly” center will always welcome anyone.
“It’s a place of togetherness, of camaraderie,” Hughes said. “Come in, you are welcome. If you’ve never been here before, you are welcome to come in.”