New Smyrna Senior Center set to serve community

From left, Dejah Harvey (Senior Center, Activities Assistant), John Lurry sen. and Queen Lurry enjoy the social activities the new Smyrna Senior Center has to offer. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

SMYRNA — It was just the opening act of Tejumade “TJ” Famakinwa’s overall vision when she strolled into the Smyrna Senior Center after its doors opened to seniors for the first time Monday morning.

The new Smyrna Senior Center serves lunch and offers different social interactions to residents 55 and over.

When Ms. Famakinwa, the center’s director, walked into Suite 104 inside the Smyrna Health and Wellness Center at 100 S. Main St., she was greeted by members of her staff and saw that around 10 people were already sitting at tables, chatting and playing games.

“I grew up here in Smyrna, Delaware, and I was a single mother and I have children and grandchildren now,” Ms. Famakinwa said, “So when I was growing up I saw the needs for the community, I saw the needs for the elderly and for the children after school.

“When I was growing up here (in Smyrna) I saw the needs. I’ve been a CNA (certified nursing assistant) for 15 years and I worked around older people and being a nurse, all my life I’ve been working around nursing homes, listening to (the elderly), seeing what their needs are. So, that’s how this developed, actually.”

Smyrna Senior Center Director Tejumade “T.J.” Famakinwa sits in her office Monday.

As for those needs for children after school, that will be Ms. Famakinwa’s next act, as she and her staff prepare to open a Smyrna Learning Center right next door to the Smyrna Senior Center this spring.

“We’re going to have children next door,” she said. “We’re having a Smyrna Learning Center that will be coming up in the spring and that will be an after-school program.”

On Monday morning, the focus was on opening the Smyrna Senior Center, which is a 4,300 square-foot-facility that she and her staff hope to fill with between 80 and 90 seniors from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The nonprofit senior center is open to Smyrna residents 55 years old and older for a fee of $25 per year. To help provide funding, the center can be rented for meetings, parties and receptions.

Ms. Famakinwa said donations to the center are welcome and they can always use the help of willing volunteers.

Ronald Richards was still processing the new senior center after it opened Monday for the first time following a late January ribbon-cutting event.

Some of the Senior Center Team members. From left, Dejah Harvey (Senior Center, Activity Assistant), Shanya Deshields (Senior Center, Activities Manager), Charmian White (Senior Center, Manager Assistant), Joyce Donohew (Senior Center, Manager), Marcella Pigford (Angel’s on the go Transportation Services, Owner) and Tejumade “T.J.” Famakinwa (Senior Center, Director).

“It’s kind of brand new, so I’ll just try to blend in. It doesn’t have any dust around it yet so it’s going to take a while (for me) to blend in,” he said, with a laugh. “I hope this (10 people) is not just the group here. There’s got to be more people for me to stay because I like to spread myself around. I’m not a stay-still person.

“The more (people) I get to know, the better I’ll be coming here.”

Ms. Famakinwa said it’s all a part of getting the word out and letting people know what kinds of activities and things the Smyrna Senior Center plans to offer.

Some of the activities that the senior guests can expect include cultural enrichment, a fitness and wellness program, birthday club, groups and games, Meals on Wheels, bingo, trips, arts and crafts, yoga, dancing and movies.

Joyce Donohew, manager of the center, has been involved with senior centers for more than 50 years and she has confidence in Ms. Famakinwa’s vision for the facility within the Smyrna community.

The Smyrna Senior Center is in Suite 104 of the Smyrna Health and Wellness Center on the corner of Main and South Street.

“This is something that’s just in me. I love it. I love the elderly,” Ms. Donohew said. “I wish we’d (had) a larger group (on Monday), but they’ll come in eventually. We just have to get the word out. We certainly have a lot of services and activities that we plan to offer them.”

She said that before the staff serves lunch each day that they will take their guests for a walk through the Smyrna Health and Wellness Center building because many of them might have been sitting all morning and they want them to exercise.

By the time Ms. Famakinwa’s vision is complete, she also wants to open a café a few doors away from the senior center, right near the Main Street entrance to Smyrna’s Health and Wellness Center.

The café is expected to be a dual-purpose venture.

Ms. Famakinwa is hoping her team will be able to sell food and beverages to some of the doctors, nurses, staff members and visitors to the center as a for-profit business, which would help them provide the lunches at the senior center.

“That would help us offset the cost of providing lunches for our seniors,” she said. “This is all something that we’re trying to put together for our community.”

Ms. Famakinwa said she just wants to provide Smyrna with the same kinds of services that other communities in the area receive.

“If you look at Middletown or Clayton, they have an after-school program, they have a food closet, they have people that need help, so we wanted to be able to do the same thing here in our neighborhood and in our community right here,” she said.

Ms. Famakinwa has a lifetime of experience on both sides of charitable work. She remembers having trouble making ends meet when she had two children and tried to pay electric and gas bills with little or no funds. She said she often received help from churches.

“I see the need for the younger ones with the children who need help with checks and food and clothes and we wanted to be able to be a blessing for all in the town of Smyrna, including the ones that struggle,” said Ms. Famakinwa.

“I was in school for social services, I have been a social worker specialist, so I’ve been around people who need help. You hold their hand and you talk to them. Some are single parents, some are living alone, and now we will have places for them to come to do the activities and all the other stuff we will have. This has been a lifelong dream of mine.”

It’s finally coming true — one act at a time.