The overarching mission of the Naples Senior Center is to meet the needs of clients from all walks of life. While some organizations may see a surge in demand as a reason to cap the number of people served by a program such as dementia respite, the senior center board members resolve to expand capacity – with no compromise in quality of care – and frequently using their own checkbooks to get it done.
That bond with the community is demonstrated by the center’s founding in 2014 and doubling its rented square footage in an office building on Castello Drive – a block east of U.S. 41 south of Pine Ridge Road – a few years later due to demand for language, art and exercise classes, a food pantry, hot lunches on Wednesdays and much more.
The next expansion will be even more comprehensive and ambitious, leaving behind the 12,000 square feet for 30,000 square feet in a new facility built from scratch on nearly 14 acres in North Naples on Oakes Boulevard near Immokalee Road.
The price tag is $15 million, with $12.5 million of that pledged at the time of Collier County Commission approval amid the holidays, wrapping up a 3 ½ year planning effort. The money on hand is led by a $500,000 matching grant from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and a $5 million naming grant from serial philanthropists Jay and Patty Baker.
While dates for groundbreaking and opening remain works in progress, center officials look forward to the facility being ready for pent-up demand for in-person services that have been forced online by the pandemic.
The center will have the added plus of outdoor amenities for trail walking; art and exercise classes; meditation; and gardening, followed by cooking lessons on how to use those freshly grown goodies.
CEO Jackie Faffer doubts a large staff expansion will be needed, because the lion’s share of the workload is shouldered by volunteers – all carefully trained and vetted by a core group of paid, licensed specialists.
Some volunteers, fellow seniors, bring innovative ideas. For example, a senior with knitting skills launched an ongoing group that turns out blankets, shawls, robes and caps for cancer patients. Another senior, a retired family court judge, saw the need for caring companionship for those who have no family – known as elder orphans.
Faffer and other center leaders, such as board chairman Alan Jaffe, have tried to anticipate every need, including parking – a challenge on Castello Drive — and transportation. They plan for 200 spaces on Oakes and vow anyone who needs a ride will get one, perhaps via a start-up shuttle service or an ongoing partnership with Collier Area Transit.
That partnership is one of many that the senior center will continue at the new venue, including ties to Florida Gulf Coast, Ave Maria and Keiser Universities, Collier County Sheriff ’s Office and NCH Healthcare System.
Faffer and Jaffe emphasize the additional space – including an assembly area – will be put to work adding flexibility. Example: caregivers driving dementia patients to respite activities, which used to consume the entire center, will be able to stay for an enjoyable class of their own.
“Our programs were bumping into each other, with multiple classes at once,” Faffer explains. “Our expansion will allow us to appropriately serve area seniors.”
“Everyone is invited,” she goes on. “Nobody is ever turned away.”
The food pantry, which lets clients choose what they want in a private setting to protect their privacy and dignity, will expand, Faffer and Jaffe say.
The whole campus – so heavily landscaped that passersby will not see the attractively designed center – will be crafted with seniors in mind. Example: parking areas will be free of the concrete bumpers that pose tripping hazards at supermarkets and shopping centers.
Off campus, the center’s important work with case management will carry on. Professional staff members check on homebound seniors referred by family and friends, develop lists of needs and monitor their progress. The help is as fundamental and important as teaching clients what Social Security and Veterans Administration assistance they are entitled.
“We want them to be safe at home,” Faffer says.
Phone 325-4444 or online at naplesseniorcenter.org
Board members: Joining Jaffe on the board are: Prentiss C. Higgins, Marvin Lader, Edward Anchel, Jay H. Baker, Phyllis Barolsky, Brian F. Bremer, Steven Coplin, Susan L. Dalton, Myra Friedman, Susan Horovitz, Paul E. Huber, Elliot Kaplan, Marsha B. Karp, Barbara Levine, John Levy, John M. Passidomo, Jane E. Perman, David W. Rutstein, Stephen L. Schwartz, Millie Sernovitz, Gail Smith, Howard Solot, Leda Zbar, Judith Zickler.