The Best Years Center — you don’t know what you’re missing

You might ask what they do at the Best Years Senior Center in Beaumont. A better question might be — what don’t they do?

Want to understand modern technology? Check. Like to dance? Check.

Want to practice Tai Chi, learn about nutrition or how to paint, or just hang out and shoot some pool? Check, check and check.

Many of the seniors registered in programs have been coming to Best Years over a decade, when it was located on South Fourth Street, which was home to the senior program since it started in 1978.

Issues with crime surrounding the site and the declining state of the building, however, kept attendance numbers lower than expected.

When Best Years moved into the Lakeside Center adjacent to the Event Center in 2019, expectations for what the program could offer and the numbers it would serve grew.

Operations Coordinator Aminatta Kamara said the new facility provides “a better space for the classes, and we’ve been trying to offer a lot of new things, as well.” Among them are a resin class and an exhibit room for seniors’ creative work.

They also changed the age requirement for who can utilize the facility from 65 and above to 18 and older.

“We do get a lot of people that are younger than senior citizens but still enjoy the programs we offer….especially the fitness classes like Zumba,” Kamara said.

The broadened age range has proven “beneficial for everyone all around,” she said.

“I know the seniors really like being able to have younger folks do things with them and also share the activities they like to do with them,” Kamara explained, adding, “Personally, I think being inclusive is never a bad thing.”

Still, the growth in participant numbers has been slow, in no small measure due to COVID-19, which impacted the region just months after the center opened.

“I think a lot of people still have no idea what goes on here,” said Barbara Turner as she awaited the start of Kay Jordan’s line dance class.

But for those in the know, like Brian Hurlbut, Best Years is what he calls “the best-kept secret in Beaumont.”

Hurlbut and four other seniors gathered last Thursday at a phone technology class led by Indu Raja.

The day’s lesson focused on texting and all that goes with it — using shortcuts to comment, finding emojis and adding photos.

It’s a big leap forward for Hurlbut, who couldn’t answer his phone when he first got it.

“I told my daughter ‘This phone doesn’t work,'” he recalled, until she explained he needed to swipe, not press.

“For kids who grow up with this, they know all about it, but for us seniors, we have to learn,” he continued.

They’re learning fast, and it’s knowledge they’re happy to share.

Hurlbut showed classmates Jay Camp and Rose Estrello the new foreign language app he just installed. Estrello shared with the class the funny videos and memes she recently got from a friend.

Instead of being isolated by a lack of tech knowledge, they’re diving in and reaping the social rewards of communicating in a new way.

Raja ended the class with an assignment — daily texting.

“I want to see seven messages from each of you by next Thursday,” she said as the group packed away their phones.

Almost none were heading home after Raja’s course. Instead, they moved down the hall to the next room, the next activity.

“I’m here four days a week pretty much all day,” Estrello said/ “Today I have the phone class, then Tai Chi, then lunch provided by Meals on Wheels, then I’ll hurry to line-dancing class, followed by Zumba and stretching.”

Along the way, she’ll intersect with friends coming from other classes, like Dana Dorman’s painting class.

Dorman, an artist with a Fine Arts degree from Lamar University, joined the center as an instructor in 2019.

She’s enjoyed spurring the creative talents of seniors who range from those who’ve never painted before to others who’ve painted for decades.

Thursday morning, the class broke from their painting projects to take in an opening reception displaying their talents in the new exhibit room.

“Everyone was real excited” about the center’s first-ever gallery display, Kamara said, as she joined the group socializing while they admired one others’ work.

“They are coming to paint, but it’s also a social thing,” Dorman said, noting the chatter filling the room. “That’s almost just as important — being with others and staying social,” she said.

Avoiding isolation is what brought Delores Poullard to the center over 10 years ago after retirement.

“My doctor told me, ‘You can retire, but don’t just go home and do nothing,'” she recalled.

Poullard came to Best Years, joined the crochet class and now leads the group of more than a dozen women at the Lakeside Center.

Together, they share not just a love of crocheting but also of giving back to the community.

Poullard said they’ve donated blankets and caps to area nursing homes, hospitals, the homeless and the VA hospital in Houston.

“We’ve always got a project every year,” Poullard said, adding, “We’re the only class in here that donates to the community.”

It’s a point of pride and camaraderie that is good for the mind and the soul, and embraces the mission of the center — to offer seniors a place “to get out of the house, be engaged with other people and be engaged with the community, ” according to Kamara.

Literally, they strive simply to live up to their own name — Best Years.

That’s a goal shared by 83-year-old Nancy Gondron, who’s at the center at least two days a week.

“It’s not fun getting old, but it’s fun trying to beat the odds,” Gondron joked, adding, “I might die tonight, so I’m gonna enjoy today.”

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