Parks and Recreation

‘It gives us a place to belong’: Senior Center strives to be place for community among peers

Grace Koo had just moved to Sugar Land after living overseas in Beijing with her husband, Michael, when she joined the T.E. Harman Senior Center in 2009.

“I wasn’t working at the time so I just came to check out what I could do,” Koo, 71, said. “I signed up for yoga and line dancing – I’d never done line dancing before – and I’ve been a member ever since.”

Named after T.E. Harman, the first mayor of Sugar Land, the T.E. Harman Senior Center strives to be a place for active seniors to form community while doing a variety of programs and daily activities tailored to senior adults 50 years old and older.

Participation in classes and activities at the Center require an annual membership: $11 per year for residents and $164.75 per year for non-residents.

“The Harman Center symbolizes the best parts of life and more specifically the City of Sugar Land as a whole,” Recreation Coordinator Sandy Penman said. “The Center provides an opportunity for members to fulfill their desire for social interaction, while also creating a space to cultivate new challenges to strengthen both body and mind. We are fortunate to have a great facility, as well as a great membership base.”

Koo said that the social interaction with people from all walks of life is one of her favorite parts of being a T.E. Harman member.

“To me, that’s beneficial,” Koo said. “Maybe in your own circle, you have limited type of people. But here, it’s wide open. I’ve met a lot of interesting people, so that’s what I’ve gotten out of it. I think the center enables people to use the facility for whatever reason. It’s something not just for the seniors, but in actuality, it’s something that makes the community stronger.”

Koo said that since life expectancy has gone up in their lifetime, members of the Center are now living until their 80’s or 90’s. If they join the Center at age 50, they could spend almost half of their life as part of the community.

“People that join don’t necessarily feel like that’s the end of life,” Koo said. “They know that they can come here and do activities and learn Spanish and learn other things.”

Cheryl DiCamillo, 64, has been a member of the T.E. Harman Center since she was 50. She found out about the Center through her parents, who had active involvement in the programs offered by the Center.

“One of the first things that she told me on my 50th birthday was that I could join the center as a member,” DiCamillo said.

Once she joined, DiCamillo attended a quilting class, and soon after, decided to start a Quilts for Kids group. The group makes quilts for sick children and donates them to local hospitals and non-profits like Texas Children’s Hospital. She leads the group every Thursday and though she says that the quilts are simple, she knows that they make a difference in the lives of the children’s they are given to. Being a part of the quilting community and the greater T.E. Harman community gives DiCamillo a sense of purpose.

“(Being a member) gives everybody the opportunity to participate and make friends,” DiCamillo said. “It keeps them healthy and keeps their mind sharp. It just gives us a place to belong to because sometimes people don’t have family nearby. Everybody here takes care of each other and looks out for everybody.”

Warrenson Payne, 73, lives in nearby Missouri City and is a new member.

“One of the members, who lives in Sugar Land, invited me once as a guest. I came a couple times after that and told myself ‘I can’t keep coming as a guest!’ So I pay my dues now. In spite of the extra money I pay, it’s worth it,” Payne said.

At first, Payne only came to play pool. He’s now added a yoga class to the rotation and plans to add a Tai Chi class in December.

“When you do retire, I think one of things you must have is a plan to do something,” Payne said. “Because if you don’t do anything you’re going to waste away. That becomes depressing. The sense of community and being able to gather and communicate to new people and be able to dialogue is the best thing.”

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