Shortly after she retired, Tessa LeBaron decided to check out the Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Center in Sandy Springs to see if it offered anything that might interest her. It did.
“I had no idea how vibrant retirement can be,” she said.
Soon, she found herself a regular at the center. She drops by once or twice a week, she said, to take part in activities ranging from knitting to water aerobics.
“The Benson Center, for me, is actually the center of the universe,” LeBaron said. “I make all my friends here. I take classes. I watch movies. We travel. I can do everything you want to do with people of your own age.”
One recent morning, she and Anthea Stamelatos were sitting at a table in the lobby of the center playing Scrabble.
The two met during programs at the Benson Center, one of four Fulton County senior citizens centers and the one that serves residents of north Fulton County and Buckhead. Now, the two meet regularly at the Benson Center at 6500 Vernon Woods Drive to play board games. “We have the $2 breakfast and play Scrabble,” LeBaron said.
The center, named for Alpharetta resident Dorothy Benson, celebrated its 13th birthday on Oct. 25 with a barn dance.
Dorothy Benson herself, now 91, took part. The facility was named for her because work she and others did to get county officials to keep their promise to build it and the county’s other senior centers. “It took many, many trips down to the county [offices] to get them to build one,” she said. “We kept telling them they promised, they promised.”
Now she’s a regular participant in programs at the facility that bears her name. She’s there from four to six days a week, she said, and takes part in everything from bocce to line dancing. “If it’s here, I’ll play it,” she said one recent Friday during a bocce, or lawn bowling, session.
She’s so active that many regulars at the center recognize her when she shows up for class. As for newcomers, they usually expect that buildings won’t be named for people who still use them, she said. “A lot of people say, ‘Well, we’re surprised to meet you. We thought you were dead,’” she said, laughing.
Benson is among about 3,500 seniors who are registered to take part in programs at the Benson Center, said Fulton Senior Services Manager Andre Gregory, director of the facility.
On average, 250 to 350 people come to the center each day, he said, to take part in programs ranging from painting or digital photography classes to how to use email to sessions practicing Tai Chi or playing bridge, he said.
The facility is open to residents aged 55 and older. Programs are free for Fulton County residents. Seniors from outside Fulton County can take part, but must pay an annual fee of $100, he said. About 100 do, he said.
The center actually takes in three separate operations, he said. In addition to the multi-purpose senior center for independent seniors, the facility offers adult day care for people who need assistance and a neighborhood center that caters to groups, he said.
“The seniors here – when they were working, they didn’t have time to take an art class,” Gregory said. “They go in there and produce their own Picassos….
“A lot of seniors out there are suffering from depression,” he said. “I had a gentleman sitting in front of me saying, ‘I’ve been married 45 years and my wife just died and now I’m waiting to die.’ I said, ‘Let me show you around.’ It was like a rebirth. A big part of what we do is to help seniors socialize with their peers.”
Or at least find a place to take up painting or dancing or play a good game of Scrabble.