Upper Township senior center reopens after two-year closure

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PALERMO - After closing for two years, the Upper Township Senior and Wellness Center reopened to the public this week.

More than 25 seniors were on hand to celebrate the center’s reopening on Monday, Feb. 10 with county and local officials. Residents here have not used the center since it was closed for construction in early 2012.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Freeholder Kristine Gabor, who serves as director of Health and Human Services for Cape May County. “Thank you for your patience.”

Renovation of the senior and wellness center cost $674,000, with $400,000 funded through a Small Cities grant. Fabbri Builders of Vineland completed construction.

The new center is around 3,400 square feet and features an enlarged kitchen with new appliances and cabinets, a new energy efficient HVAC system, a new entertainment center with a TV and Wii gaming console, new flooring and furniture and a new roof, siding and windows.

Held over from the old center are a pool table and an upright piano that Elsie Shearer of Upper Township has played since 1993. Shearer, who is the organist for Trinity United Methodist Church in Marmora, said she plays for a half-hour after lunch everyday at the center.

“It’s just a little background music,” she said. “I’m lucky to be able to use the gifts God gave me.”

Gabor said one of the major additions to the center is a separate office that will be used by county departments to provide services in the north end of Cape May County. The office door can be closed to provide privacy for wellness visits, she said.

“Residents in the north end of the county can seek out services here without driving so far,” Gabor said.

Mayor Richard Palombo said the separate office will allow the county to offer free vaccine and immunization clinics in Upper Township. Wellness clinics for diabetes, hypertension and other ailments can also be run out of the office, he said.

“There are a lot of things we can offer here that haven’t been offered in the past,” Palombo said. “It’s great for Upper Township and, really, the whole northern part of the township. We need to get seniors here to take advantage of it.”

Gabor said the center was already closed when she was sworn into office as a freeholder for the first time in 2012. She had been a member of Upper Township Committee before winning election as a freeholder.

She said it had been a priority for her to see the center rehabilitated and reopened.

Freeholder director Gerald Thornton said it was a priority for him, too. He was head of Health and Human Services before becoming director of the county freeholders in 2011.

Thornton said Cape May County had come very close to losing the $400,000 Small Cities grant under the previous administration.

“We were right on the edge,” he said. “We were within a period of two months (of losing the grant.)”

Thornton and Gabor thanked AnnMarie McMahon, director of the county’s Facilities and Services Department, who oversaw construction at the center. Donna Groome, executive director of the county’s Department of Aging and Disability Services, said it was McMahon’s vision that guided the work.

“She wanted the center to blend into the natural environment,” she said.

Thornton also thanked John Mathis, director of food nutrition services at the Crest Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, who oversees the preparation of 1,500 meals every day. The meals are delivered to senior centers in Ocean City, Upper Township, North Wildwood and Lower Township.

Groome said the senior and wellness center will provide exercise programs, chair yoga and tai chi. It has pool and shuffle board tables and a TV with a Wii console. The seniors like to play Wii bowling, she said. There is also Bingo and card games at the center, she said.

The county’s Department of Aging and Disability Services offers mobile meals to seniors, as well as housekeeping services, home health aides for qualifying residents and help for grandparents raising grandchildren. A discount prescription card is also available, and seniors can receive help signing up for Medicare programs through the county.

For more information on the Department of Aging and Disability Services, call (609) 886-2784.

Freeholder Kristine Gabor speaks during the grand reopening ceremony at the Upper Township Senior and Wellness Center. Freeholder Kristine Gabor speaks during the grand reopening ceremony at the Upper Township Senior and Wellness Center.

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