MILTON — The day the Ballston Area Senior Citizens found out they were losing access to their home in March 2020, the Milton Community Center was a constant buzz of activity — lunches, card games, dances, exercise classes, crafts.
“We had something going on in this building every single day,” said Linda Elmer, current vice president and former president of the senior group.
More than two years later, the buzz is finally back — and the Ballston Area Senior Citizens plan to celebrate their homecoming on Saturday with a rousing event at the center, complete with a catered lunch, theatrical performance and dance. The homecoming celebration is open to the group’s some 400 members, with organizers expecting more than a quarter of the members to attend.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Barbara Broderson, who is the group’s treasurer and chairs of the Homecoming Committee. “We have been meeting in other areas, but there is nothing like being home.”
The seniors lost full access to their home at the Milton Community Center more than two years ago when the Town of Milton evacuated its Town Hall on Geyser Road on an emergency basis due to mold problems inside the building caused by a leaky roof. The town, which owns the community center, set up a temporary office inside the community center on Northline Road, as a $1.65 million renovation to Town Hall was completed.
“Someone called me and said there is something going on at the community center — they are moving in cabinets, computers and tables,” said Elmer. “Sure enough, they moved in.”
The town’s move came just as COVID-19 restrictions were taking hold, so seniors wouldn’t have been using the community center’s event space for normal social gatherings anyway — something they’d done since the building opened in 1995. But when the pandemic eased slightly during the summer of 2020 and seniors eventually found themselves relocating to temporary homes thanks to the Boghosian Brothers and the Ballston VFW 358 — and hosting take-out pizza lunches instead of the normal sit-down luncheons — the seniors found themselves feeling displaced and limited.
In September 2020, dozens of area seniors even protested the town’s temporary use of the facility as a town hall by holding up signs with messages like “Senior Lives Matter. Let us in” outside the community center.
Back in their space, the seniors say it’s all water under the bridge.
“The pandemic wasn’t supposed to go on as long [as it has], the renovation wasn’t supposed to go on as long,” Broderson said. “But here we are — we’re back.”
For many seniors, not having regular functions inside the community center was a lost lifeline, Dot Christiansen, a member of the Homecoming Committee, said Thursday morning as the seniors prepared for a weekly meeting and lunch with about 60 people at the community center.
“This is a central place for them, and they didn’t have anywhere else to go while this was going on,” Christiansen said. “It made it very hard on the socialization and the mental health and well-being of everybody. They were upset.”
Earleen Van has lived in one of the senior residences next to the community center for seven years.
Prior to the pandemic and the town moving in, Van was a regular at the community center, whether walking over to attend potluck lunches or crafting events.
“I got to hang around a lot of people, and I kind of enjoyed it,” Van said.
But without the regular social gatherings, she found herself feeling isolated.
“It got a little boring. There are only so many books you can read,” Van said.
Now, the seniors have their space back.
“There’s nothing like being home,” Elmer said. “That’s why we are throwing ourselves a party.”
The seniors, who never lost access to the community center’s smaller craft and game rooms, were able to reclaim some of the event space at the beginning of this year, first splitting the area with town employees — a room divider between them. Gradually, the seniors got more and more space as the renovations at town hall were finished and the town was able to relocate more employees back to Geyser Road. In March, the town completely vacated the community center, giving the seniors back the entire event space two years after taking it over. The town even spruced the community center up a bit, with touches such as re-waxing the floors and cleaning the curtains.
“To see their faces when they got back into the community center was amazing. It was like a breath of fresh air to them — they were so excited to get back in,” said Milton Town Supervisor Scott Ostrander, whose term started in January and who plans to attend Saturday’s celebration. “It’s awesome.”
The area seniors are once again filling up the calendar with everything from new computer classes to bingo.
“We used to do a country-western dance with square dance as part of the routine. We probably had about 120 people come to that,” Elmer said. “We haven’t started that up yet again, but that’ll probably be coming soon.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
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