Ken and Marion Mainprize looked after the flowerbeds. Marilyn Hance looked after the dishes . . . and more dishes . . . and more dishes. George Werden and Bryant Rumble looked after everything from carving Christmas turkeys to refereeing card games to oiling squeaky door hinges.
Libby Wright looked . . . well, she looked up every time she entered the building at the exterior wall, admiring the colourful mural that still graces the one-time home of senior citizens’ activities in St. Marys — a mural celebrating the history of Cadzow Park and the Stonetown as a whole. It’s a place she still takes visitors to St. Marys, to see the murals, even though the facility she frequented so often after first moving to town as a widow (“I don’t know what I would have done without it,” she confesses) is no longer housed in that Cadzow Park building.
That’s because, for the past decade, there’s a lot less of that “looking” at the murals. And there’s also been a lot less of the old-style “looking after” by volunteers. When the Friendship Centre relocated to a newly-constructed addition to the Pyramid Recreation Centre in 2004, Town staff from various departments — Operations; Social Services; Recreation — were able to integrate responsibilities related to the Friendship Centre into the tasks they were already completing in and around the PRC.
Gone was the need for volunteer help in the flowerbeds, in the kitchen, at the reception desk. No longer were the ever-obliging Werden and Rumble called upon to haul chairs up the back stairs for special events, or patch together a piece of equipment that probably should have been replaced years ago.
Jenny Mikita, now the volunteer coordinator for the Town of St. Marys, was one of a very small number of paid employees working out of the Friendship Centre just before it moved to James Street. She was on hand late last week when Rumble, Werden, the Mainprizes, Wright and several other Friendship Centre members gathered in the wonderfully bright dining area/common room of the James Street facility. They were on hand to share their Friendship Centre recollections on the occasion of the organization’s 40th year since first moving into the old Cadzow Park building.And Mikita conceded the change in volunteer needs was one of the biggest adjustments as a result of the move.
Leading up to June 18, 2004, membership in the 50-and-over organization — which receives what seems like an ever-dwindling (taking into account the rising costs of providing services) annual grant from the provincial government, as well as various one-time contributions from ministries such as Health and Community and Social Services, with the balance of funding coming through the Town of St. Marys — was near an all-time high, nearing 500. Now, it’s about 350.
But the breadth and width of services that can now be provided is so much larger now. Some fitness and art classes appeal to people well outside the 50-and-over membership guidelines of the Friendship Centre itself. The non-member program fees charged to those participants help boost the bottom line of the organization — which, in 2014, celebrates the paying off of its commitment to the PRC debt.
Most importantly, after 10 years, the Friendship Centre — and the Town of St. Marys services with which it shares the PRC building — seems to have grown into the facility it moved to in 2004. It has learned how to take advantage of the expanded space, of opportunities inherent in the shared Recreation Centre.
It was a transformation noted on Tuesday, Feb. 4, during a Committee of the Whole meeting of Town Council. Bill Osborne, one of Town Council’s two representatives on the volunteer board of directors overseeing the Friendship Centre, reported the many people of a varied age range are now coming to the Friendship Centre for one reason, and finding reasons to stay for hours. He called it a “social centre,” adding if its users were more skewed towards the teenage years, it might be referred to as “a hang-out.”
“I think it’s truly coming into its own . . . and it’s only going to get better,” Osborne offered.