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City of Milton’s senior program expands, seeks accreditation

By: PAMELA HOLT, City of Milton PIO and Director of Marketing

Walk into the Guy Thompson Community Center on any given weekday morning and you’ll be greeted with a smile from Joe Paschal, senior citizens coordinator for the city of Milton.

Tai Chi photo
Tai Chi is a popular class at Guy Thompson Community Center in Milton, Florida. Instructor Debbie Loakim said she’s pleasantly surprised about the size of her weekly classes. Photo by Pamela Hot.

“How are you today?” Paschal asks a participant as she walks through the door. He’s busy attending to the needs of the seniors arriving at the center to join in the Tai Chi or yoga classes. It’s clear he enjoys interacting with seniors, helping them keep active and learn new things.

Paschal says the center has about 200 seniors actively participating Monday through Friday. The senior activities program focuses on socialization, healthy futures and education.

“It’s never dull, that’s for sure,” he reassures us.

On behalf of the community center, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has applied to be accredited by National Council on Aging, which is important for the center because it can create new programming opportunities.

“Right now we’re planning for another intergenerational event called Mentor Up, through which local college students will assist seniors with mobile tech items like tablets and smartphones. Our senior residents  know they aren’t taking full advantage of new technology’s capabilities and sometimes they need help. With this upcoming activity, we provide one-on-one time with young adults who do know how these things work,” he said. “It’s a win-win for all involved.”

The city began senior activities nearly two years ago after starting a Bingo game, Paschal adds. It built up from there.

“It began organically with two or three players. Pickleball, a racquet sport combining elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis, began in the gym and stories began appearing in the local paper. Word of mouth helped a lot,” he says.

Currently, the center provides activities such as yoga, pickleball, senior tennis, Tai Chi, bridge club, chair aerobics, movie matinee, fine artist gathering, cards, line dancing and a writers group.

Yoga class participant Chris Fisher, front row, is a regular attender. She also attends other classes at the community center. Photo by Joe Paschal

Paschal says with the city’s fast growth, it began to have growing pains.

“We have limited space. Accessibility to the front door is difficult for seniors. It’s a long walk across the parking lot, especially for someone with a walker,” he says.

City Manager Brian Watkins says the need for expansion is real.

“The city purchased an additional 30 acres next to the community center two or three years ago with a sportsplex in mind. After surveying the community at public meetings, we found the main thing people wanted was more community center space,” Watkins says.

The preliminary design for the expansion of the sportsplex includes a significant expansion of the center.

“As Joe has expanded senior activities, we realized we need more space for it to grow. This is a much needed program and an important part of our community,” Watkins says.

AARP has permission from the City of Milton, from Pamela Holt, writer/photographer, Joe Paschal, photographer and from participants in the program to have their photos taken and used on the website.

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