It's a typical weekday morning, and the Bain Center is buzzing with activity. An aerobics class is taking place in one room, and several people are playing pool in another. In the woodworking shop, Herschell Doss of Ellicott City is adding slender, curving legs to a side table that he is creating.
Throughout this month, the center is celebrating its 25th anniversary with activities such as wine tasting, live music and a dance. But these events are not so different than the whirlwind of programs and events that the Bain Center offers on a regular basis.
"What we wanted to do this month is more of what we already do," said Arleen Dinneen, the center's director.
When it opened in 1983, the Florence Bain Senior Center, as it was known at the time, was about 20,000 square feet. It was named for Florence Bain, the first director of the county's Commission on Aging, who worked to ensure seniors in the county had places to go and things to do.
"Her mission in life was to get services for older adults," said Susan Rosenbaum, director of the Howard County Department of Citizen Services, of which the Office on Aging is part. "She put all her blood, sweat and tears into making that happen."
Howard County has 11 senior centers in eight locations (three sites have "plus" centers to care for people with additional needs), but the Bain Center stands out as one with more activities and resources. It's the only one with a woodworking shop, for example.
In 2003 and 2004, the Bain Center was renovated and expanded. A new wing with four rooms, plus an indoor seating area and a courtyard, were added. At the time, the name was changed from the Florence Bain Senior Center to the Bain Center.
One reason for the name change, Dinneen said, is because the word "senior" could keep vigorous people older than 55 from getting involved.
Dinneen, who has worked at the center since 1990 and has been director since 1994, said about 150 people use the center on an average weekday, and more come for special programs. With help from the Department of Recreation and Parks, Howard Community College and other resources, the center offers activities that include tap-dancing classes, music appreciation and pottery.
Some, like Nova Scott, who lives on Triadelphia Road, come to the center to socialize.
"It just gives me an opportunity to chat with people," she said, holding a newspaper on her lap. "I'm kind of isolated, living in a rural area."
Scott said she comes to the center nearly every day. "I read a lot, books and stuff, and walk around and chat with some of the people I know," she said.
She'll often eat lunch at the Bain Center, she said. Meals on Wheels provides nutritionally balanced meals, accepting "anonymous donations" as payment, Dinneen said. Dining-room patrons who are 60 or older, or 55 and older with a disability, are given an envelope, and told to put in as much money as they want. Most give about $2, Dinneen said.
When the center first opened, those meals were the focal point of the center, Rosenbaum said. But these days, retirees are younger and healthier than ever, and are likely to just pop in for an activity or to volunteer.
"A majority of people these days are going to come and they're going to go and they're going to choose the activities," she said. That's why the center is constantly adding new programs and tweaking its schedule. "We want to keep what we do fresh and new, and be open to the needs of the changing population," Rosenbaum said.
One relatively-new program is a once-a-month dance with live music that attracts 50 or 60 people, said Malcolm Wolf, president of the nine-person council that raises money and organizes events for the center. The dances, held the second Friday of each month from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., were not profitable at first, but the council worked to keep them going, knowing that the few people who attended enjoyed them.
The center also is home to the Howard County Woodworkers Guild, and guild members volunteer their time, staffing the woodworking shop every weekday and helping anyone who is interested to create items from wood. Guild members and other volunteers create about 500 wooden toys each year that are given to Toys for Tots.
The center provides the space and about half the equipment, and the guild provides the rest of the equipment, said Mike Carski, one of the volunteers.
One program that has been at the Bain Center since the beginning has been Pets on Wheels, which dispatches volunteers and their pets to senior centers and assisted living facilities. The program's director, Tricia Summers, said she brings her Great Pyrenees, Harry, to the center about once a week.
Harry, who is roughly the size of a small horse, eagerly accepts ear-rubs and conversations from everyone who passes. The idea, said Summers, is to "bring pets to people who can no longer keep pets." For older people who may feel lonely, nuzzling a dog or cat is therapeutic, she said.
Simply getting out of the house and seeing friends can be therapeutic, too.
Zelda Hughes, who lives in Columbia, said she comes to the Bain Center four days a week.
"I just sit around to hear the gossip," she said.