Each day, hundreds of seniors visit the Norwalk Senior Center to stay fit, socialize, learn new information, use computers, participate in arts and crafts and enjoy a good meal.
It has been 40 years since local seniors began enjoying the center's programming, and to mark the 40th anniversary, a celebration is scheduled at the Dolce Norwalk Center on May 13 from 7 to 11 p.m. The guest of honor will be local attorney and former mayor Frank Zullo, who helped to successfully launch the center in 1971.
"The Norwalk Senior Center is a vital community partner," state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) said. "Each day, nearly 300 people visit the center's two locations. For 40 years, the senior center has been a place to congregate, have a healthy meal and learn in the company of understanding staff and community members.
"The past few months haven't been the easiest for the administrators, staff and members who rely on the senior center, however, they continue to persevere, and I congratulate them on reaching this milestone."
New programs mixed with old favorites keep seniors coming back for more.
This month, for instance, the Norwalk Senior Center is introducing a program called Memory Matters, a four-week program that will include speakers from the Connecticut Alzheimer's Association. There will be discussions about dementia and tips for preserving memory and cognitive function from a dietitian and fitness expert.
The new program comes on the heels of the addition of a new Quigong class to the Senior Center roster.
Led by Bill Wrenn, this Chinese-based form of martial arts combines fluid movements with deep, relaxing intakes of breath to induce healing and optimal health.
"It's quickly grown in popularity," program director Pat Ross said. "Our seniors just love Quigong."
Seniors also are enjoying practicing yoga and, based on the demand, Ross said that a second class was added to the schedule.
Initiated by the late Lawrence Hochheimer of Norwalk, Zullo secured federal funding that allowed the center to first open at 26 Monroe St., in a senior housing complex.
"Larry was very dedicated to the seniors," Zullo said. "I had the good fortune of being mayor at the time, so I supported his interest in establishing a senior center."
Larry's wife, Irene, started a Senior Center Employment Placement Service that helped local people find jobs in the community.
By 1975, a larger space was needed and the Norwalk Kiwanis Club helped fund the move to a bigger facility at 20 West Ave. Rapidly outgrowing this site, too, the center moved once again in 1990 to its main building at 11 Allen Road.
However, executive director Paul Palermo explained that because residents of South Norwalk weren't traveling to the site, a satellite facility was opened in 1996 at 20 West Ave. and, in 2002, the Norwalk Senior Center South moved to its location at Cedar Court, hosted by the Conte family.
"The Norwalk Senior Center has been a lifeline for our seniors in Norwalk for four decades, providing support and services for those that need help the most," House Minority Leader Larry Cafero (R-Norwalk) said. "Perhaps most importantly, the center is an extension of family, a familiar place where friends congregate and share their life experience."
Next week's 40th Anniversary Gale will feature a live auction, with prizes including a catered sail on Long Island Sound, opening day tickets to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, and a signed and framed photograph of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. The host of the live auction will be Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia.
A silent auction, filled with prizes donated by the Senior Center's board of directors and local businesses, and a raffle drawing also will take place. Following dinner, guests can dance to the Latin jazz music of Azure.
Tickets are $75 and there will be a cash bar. All proceeds will benefit the Norwalk Senior Center and the Meals on Wheels program, which feeds at least 80 people a day, Palermo said. Meals on Wheels is available to all Norwalk residents of any age who are not meeting their nutritional needs because of difficulty shopping or preparing their own meals because of long-term illness, injury, disability or general frailty.
"It's marvelous," Zullo said. "The Meals on Wheels services a lot of clients. There's a very dedicated staff on board. We're indeed very fortunate to have a group like this fulfilling a legitimate need in the community. It's grown quite effectively and we're fortunate to have Paul as its head. We've come a long way."
And community members can rest assured that going forward, the center will continue Meals on Wheels, as well as a comprehensive series of programs designed to help seniors organize and plan for the future.
On Tuesday, Joe Carbone, president of Workplace Inc., will be at the Norwalk Senior Center to present a talk about job issues. Anyone who is 50 and older can attend the discussion at 10:30 a.m. and ask questions about work-related issues.
"For people who want to get back into the work force, they will help them figure out what kinds of jobs are available," Ross said.
She is looking forward to Memory Matters, which is being presented with the assistance of Barbara Newland. Taking place every Wednesday in May, Memory Matters is being sponsored by the Greens at Cannondale in Wilton, where Newland is the admissions, marketing and community relations coordinator.
"Along with various guest speakers, there will also be art and music components," Ross said. "I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a lot of fun."
For information about the Norwalk Senior Center or the 40th Anniversary Gala, call 203-847-3115 or visit www.norwalkseniorcenter.org.