For 30 years, Clementina “Tina” Rodrigues, a lifelong Baltimore Highlands resident, has been coming to the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands Senior Center at 424 Third Avenue.
“It’s been a wonderful place for seniors.”
Coming to the center, she said, gave her things to do, people to meet and things to learn. Before the center was built, she remembers going to classes in the basement of a nearby United Methodist Church while officials worked to gather funds and finish construction.
“It saved my life,” Rodrigues said, adding she wouldn’t know what to do with her time, were it not for the center.
The senior center on Thursday marked its 30th anniversary in the building on Third Avenue. The occasion was marked with a special citation from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a citation from the delegates and state senator that represent District 12 in Annapolis, a buffet, and red, white and blue decorations around the building.
State Sen. Clarence Lam called the building a “gem in southwest Baltimore County,” and its 30 years in operation a “remarkable milestone.”
Lam was also the first to make a point that was repeated throughout the celebration — it’s the people who really make the senior center, not the building that it’s in.
Baltimore County operates 20 senior centers, stretching all around the beltway and north into Hereford. They’re all open during the week, with slight variations in hours, though all close before 5 p.m. Lunch is served several times per week.
Anybody over the age of 60 can join the centers for free. For an annual fee of $100 (or $60, depending on location), seniors can get access to a fitness center at 13 of the senior centers, including Arbutus, Catonsville, Bykota in Towson, Essex and Pikesville.
The senior centers also plan trips around the country. Upcoming events include a trip to the Kennedy Center to see “Hello Dolly!”, a boat cruise out of St. Michaels, and a trip to Yellowstone National Park.
The core of programming at senior centers, though, are weekly classes. At the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands Senior Center, those classes include yoga-meditation, bowling on a Nintendo Wii, cash bingo, quilting, shuffleboard and an exercise class called “Torn 2B Fit.”
There are special events and educational programming, including classes that look at Baltimore’s history or events that encourage seniors to get checked for hepatitis-C, or learn about healthcare fraud and abuse.
The Department of Aging this year is focusing on social isolation, said director Laura Riley. She said research has shown that being a socially isolated individual can be just as deadly as being a chronic cigarette smoker.
“We want to see more people out, more people at the table,” Riley said at the celebration in Lansdowne, addressing a crowded room of senior center members. “It’s your job to help get them out.”
Riley said the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands center was “booming,” and that she was glad so many individuals were engaged with it.
“Than you for being the light in the neighborhood,” Riley said.
The ceremony wasn’t just for invited dignitaries to make speeches and hand out citations. Three women were recognized, too.
Virginia Mullins, treasurer at the center, was recognized for her work organizing the ceremony, and a corsage was pinned to her chest.
Mullins, who’s lived in Lansdowne for 37 years, said she became a member at the center in 2007, when she retired. She’s at the center at least twice a week — on Tuesdays for shuffleboard and on Fridays to handle office work in her capacity as a member of the center council.
“There’s always something going on,” Mullins said.
Another woman, Eileen Brooker, had a corsage pinned on her in recognition of being, at age 91, the oldest member of the center. She stood quickly, gave a wave and thanked the crowd.
And Rodrigues, along with two others who weren’t in attendance, was recognized for being a member of the center since it opened in 1989. Rodrigues has also helped compile the center’s history and collect stories from its members in binders that stay at the center.
Rodrigues, who used to drive herself to the center, said she now catches a ride with some friends. She has trouble walking and is losing her eyesight, she said.
“The center was a God-send for me,” Rodrigues said.