The Westchester Senior Center has seen better days. A once thriving community hub, the center has seen its membership numbers dwindle in recent years and much-needed renovations and maintenance deferred. The Rotary Club of Westchester is hoping to revive the tired center, however, by selecting it for its fifth biennial “Makeover Project.” While the club has previously chosen the home of a deserving local family to makeover, club president Heather Martillo spearheaded the idea to select a project this time around that would have a much bigger impact on the community.
“We chose this project to not only breathe new life into the Westchester Senior Center, but to create a hands-on project that will bring our entire community together to work shoulder to shoulder to improve the lives of our seniors,” said Martillo. “Like many cities, the City of Los Angeles does not have adequate funding for ongoing maintenance, repairs and renovations of its public facilities, even ones that provide vital services to critical populations like the Westchester Senior Center. With an aging population in our community, it is more important than ever to create an updated, inviting and vibrant Senior Center where seniors can socialize and connect with critical resources.”
The Rotary Club has spent more than a year and a half collaborating with Councilman Mike Bonin’s office to make this project a reality. Because the Westchester Senior Center is a city facility, the club had to get approval to make any improvements to the building.
“We had great talks with Bonin’s office about how to get a project like this through the city,” said Martillo. “With a project like this, there are a lot of potential road blocks.”
In the end, it was determined that the club would be making the improvements as a “gift” to the Westchester Senior Center and only cosmetic changes would be made to ensure that no permits would need to be pulled.
“The Westchester Rotary is a phenomenal partner in putting neighborhoods first, and the work they are going to do to help renovate the Senior Center is an excellent demonstration of what we can accomplish when we work together,” said Bonin. “The renovations will not only spruce-up both the interior and exterior of the Senior Center, but will help attract better programs and services to the center through better facilities and new engagement from the community. I am enormously grateful to the Rotary Club and very proud to help support this effort.”
The club has a budget of $100,000– provided by its own foundation and major donors like the William H. Hannon Foundation and the Drollinger Charitable Foundation– to help improve the space. The hope is to transform the Westchester Senior Center into a bright, welcoming gathering place that will serve seniors, and the community, more effectively. Currently, the center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Martillo hopes that after the renovations are complete, more community groups will use the space after-hours and on weekends.
“The idea is to get good energy in here. So many seniors are staying in their homes now and a community center is vital,” says Martillo. “We want to brighten it up a bit and bring some attention to the center.”
Perhaps the most important task the club is undertaking is smoothing the concrete between the parking lot’s handicapped accessible ramp and the center’s doorway. Many of the Senior Center stakeholders told the Home Makeover committee that the walkway was problematic for seniors who may have mobility issues or use a walker.
Another key aspect of the makeover is updating the kitchen and helping reconfigure the way the seniors get their lunch. Currently, in order to pick up their lunch, seniors have to queue through the center’s office, rendering it unusable, so finding a way to make the kitchen flow more efficiently is a crucial part of the project. The club will also donate a new refrigerator and an oven that can accommodate catered events.
“The center has limped along for many years without a functioning kitchen, despite the fact that many seniors count on the center to provide their daily meals,” said Geoff Maleman, a Westchester Rotarian and founder of the Rotary Makeover Project. “We are hopeful that after the project is complete, Westchester area seniors will feel more comfortable and enjoy coming to the center to take advantage of all the excellent programming it offers.”
During the weeklong project the club’s “to do” list includes stripping and refinishing the wood floors, painting, light landscaping, updating the decor and giving the computer/library room an overhaul. Although the club can’t tackle every improvement the center needs, the hope is that once it gets the ball rolling, other community groups will step up and take on other projects at the facility. The Rotary Club has already partnered with the nonprofit Do Art Foundation to create a public art installation on the center’s roof. The installation will utilize nylon rope to create a visually impactful abstract design that was developed in part by the Senior Center’s Knitting Club.
“We think this is a necessary project to happen, and we know it’s not going to get funded by the city,” said Martillo. “We hope the project brings more people and resources to the center. We want more people to get involved.”
Carol Kitabayashi, the executive Director of the Westchester Playa Village (WPV), a nonprofit that helps seniors remain independent in their homes, believes the renovations will be vital in attracting new members to the club. She says adding new events and programming will help ensure the Senior Center and attendance thrives. WPV currently holds its monthly Silver Seminar Series events, senior dances and a fall risk and reduction fair at the center.
“It’s important that there is sustainability and people going to the center,” said Kitabayashi. “You can revitalize with paint, but we need the programming. This is a great project and a great idea. I hope this little corner on Manchester and Lincoln comes to life in a new way.”
Contractors will start making improvements to the center on April 27 and the Rotary Club of Westchester is looking for volunteers to help with painting, landscaping, decorating and other tasks on Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3. The club is also looking for skilled handymen, especially a carpenter, to help with issues as they arise.
“We think this is a worthy project that can service a lot of people and do a lot of good in the community,” said Martillo. “With limited city resources, communities like Westchester will have to think how they can improve facilities to serve their residents. We all have to step up a little more.”
Pictured: Westchester Rotary President Heather Martillo (left) discusses the new color scheme for the Westchester Senior Center with interior designer Lourdes Russell.
Posted April 2015.