The Dexter Senior Center’s new director, Wendy Smith, feels like she’s coming home to something familiar that she’s enjoyed throughout her career — working with seniors.
Smith has worked at the University of Michigan’s Development, Marketing and Communications department for the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the Chelsea District Library, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, and the Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor in various marketing and communications leadership roles.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with people, seniors in particular,” said Smith, who has most recently spent a majority of her time working on the digital side of marketing more so than the human side.
“I’ve enjoyed the senior programs I’ve worked with in the various places I’ve worked up to now, whether it’s the senior alumni at U of M, the seniors at the Chelsea District library, or the grandparents program at Rudolf Steiner (School of Ann Arbor) … it’s always the seniors that I really enjoyed spending my time with,” Smith added.
She was hired at the end of August and officially started in her DSC position on September 16 after working for a few sporadic days under the interim DSC co-directors who kept the center’s administrative functions going after Katie Stirling’s departure.
Smith will work at the center 30 hours per week overseeing the center’s various networking, fitness, learning and entertainment programs, in addition to the Senior Nutrition Program and the Meals on Wheels program, as well as the daily operation of the center as a destination for local seniors to enjoy themselves and live fuller, richer lives.
Smith says that she has enjoyed seeing seniors volunteer to help support the center’s programs and efforts to benefit the Dexter senior community as a whole.
“I was excited when this position opened up and I’ve really enjoyed it and this is a busy place that has quite a lot going on — it’s been a very good fit for me,” Smith added.
While she enjoys the laughs and hugs that happen often during her workday, Smith is serious about bolstering the community’s support of the Dexter Senior Center, while also refocusing on marketing the center’s activities via all available channels.
“This is a true non-profit center and the board works very hard to keep it afloat,” Smith said. “There’s a need to engage more businesses and individuals from the community and surrounding areas to be able to provide more programs here.
“We work on a shoestring budget, and with programs like the Senior Nutrition Program we can’t really count on funding from the county to run our programs, and to keep the costs of popular programs like the exercise and art classes we need to raise more money.”
One of the major fundraising pushes will come in the form of a benefit dinner at the Cedars of Dexter the beginning of next month.
Smith has been working on getting a better understanding of the overall calendar of programs and events, as well as touching base with individual program providers and organizers to learn how they operate within the senior center.
One goal is to get word of individual programs and classes out sooner so seniors have more advance notice to plan their participation in center classes and activities.
Smith says she would like to form a member advisory group to learn what members would like to see the center do in the future.
“I need to be out meeting people and touching base with our members … we do a congregate lunch here every weekend that is a great opportunity to do introductions and announcements and during that time you can sit down and ask people what they’re looking for,” Smith explained. “I’d like to see more of that.”
She also joked that maybe the center’s Nintendo Wii might see some action, for once.
“We had a lot of fun with Wii bowling at the Chelsea library … we even took it over to Silver Maples and played with the seniors there several times,” she said.
Smith also plans to reach out to seniors in Chelsea and Ann Arbor, in order to expand the social circle of Dexter seniors, as well as encourage more cross-community bonds within the broader Washtenaw County senior community.