Not as far away as you might think!

My time helping out at the gym in the Senior’s Center in Santa Clara has been incredibly fulfilling, giving me the opportunity to help many people learning how to master the equipment in our well equipped facility.  The center is located in a beautiful are of the city called The Quad, which is an older well treed area, with homes that were built in the 40’s and 50’s.  Although it does occasionally put me in the spot of having to defend myself against well intentioned advice that I too should avail myself of this equipment, I generally find myself enjoying my time there as a volunteer.  I have seen many stroke patients who use our facility to regain motion lost to a medical crisis, who come in as wheelchair bound invalids, but walk out on their own two feet several months later.

My role is generally operating this computer system, recording folks as they come in, and checking them out afterwards.  This enables the facility to know how many people use the gym, and how many are in at any given time.  It isn’t foolproof, as we find that some people are inclined to ‘sneak’ out the side doors without checking out.  We don’t know why they do this, since it is a no cost facility for Santa Clara residents, but they do.  We are told that ‘theoretically’ it would give us numbers in case of emergency evacuation.

As a public facility, the center also allows various homeless residents to use the shower facilities.  They are registered, given membership cards for free, and obligingly check in and out each time.  They are easily recognizable, as they carry their belongings in a dirty plastic shopping bag, with equally ragged and soiled towels looped over their arms.  We always greet them with our customary smiles, calling them by name if we’ve seen them often enough.  Over the past year, we have watched one such fellow get thinner and thinner, due to the cancer he is bravely fighting.  Luckily, the management at the center has noted his struggles, and has given him a free pass to the lunch program.

Last Thursday when I was in for my 12-3 shift, I was working with Joan, an 85 year old gal with one arm.  She is a powerhouse in her own right, originally from Kentucky.  She married and divorced young, had several kids, and worked to support them and herself, here in Santa Clara.  She now happily babysits great grandchildren whenever she has the chance!

The lunch program that is run at the center 5 days a week, is formally called “Dining Out”, and is available to anyone age 60 and up. It costs just $3.00, IF you can afford it.  If not, it is free.  It is a balanced meal, designed by the nutritionist at the center.  Somehow someone got the days mixed up, and a tray with soup, salad, main course, and fruit for dessert was delivered to the gym!  Normally if Manny is working with me, he gets a lunch tray brought to him, as he has been volunteering there for over 20 years, but he wasn’t working that day.  The delivery fellow shrugged when we explained the mix up, and set it down on the counter behind us.

Joan and I discussed this and decided to wait for one of our homeless fellows to come through, and see if he was hungry.  Before long, one came through and eyed the tray, obviously tempted.  He took it happily, as we directed him to the patio area, where many members took their lunches to eat on nice weather days.  He thanked us so many times, clutching the tray and beaming, as he headed out.  Joan patted my hand as he disappeared, saying “THAT felt good, didn’t it?”.


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