About 150 people hooted and clapped Thursday morning as the ribbon was cut and the Conway Senior Center was renamed the Conway Senior Wellness and Activity Center — among only nine centers to achieve the wellness status statewide.
"This center is so great," said Tamra Gentry, 65, who brings her uncle to the center every weekday. "But the focus on wellness is wonderful."
The new state designation is the first step in the senior center’s effort to build a new 38,000-square-foot center, officials said.
"In our minds, we’re hoping in the next five years it will be a reality," Executive Director Debra Robinson said.
Robinson said she hopes the designation will mean a chance at grants that could help them build a $9 million facility for the elderly in Faulkner County. Officials have the blueprints for a new center but are still looking for about 3 acres and just planning to start fundraising, Robinson said.
The center is for residents who are 60 years old or older or who are the spouse of someone who is in that age bracket, according to the brochure. Services include: transportation, meals, home delivered meals, activities and help with tasks like paying bills.
"We want everyone to know we are not just a senior center — we do so much more to keep seniors active and try to keep them healthy," Key said.
To receive the state designation, the senior center had to meet seven wellness programing criteria to meet seniors’ total needs, said Beverly Dunlap with the human services department’s Division of Aging and Adult Services. Those "dimensions of wellness" are physical, environmental, spiritual, emotional, vocational, intellectual and social.
On a typical week, the center offers everything from exercise classes to quiz bowl and blood pressure checks.
The designation as an Arkansas Senior Wellness and Activity Center could help the Conway center get grants, Dunlap said. Conway’s center is a "trailblazer" for other centers in the state, she said.
Between 75 and 90 elderly use the current center daily, said Elisa Key, activities coordinator.
"This place gives [people] a reason to get up," Key said. "I think [the center] helps seniors live longer."
But at 9,000 square feet — the building where the center has been housed for the past 30 years — the center is small and outdated, Key and Robinson said. The number of people who need the center is growing, center officials said. About 10 percent of Faulkner County’s residents were over the age of 65 in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
After the speeches and ribbon cutting, people ate at their tables and talked quietly about a new center.
"It’s exciting," Gentry said.