BA Seniors Is A Community – Not A Building

Last month, I gave a teaser that my new DIY project at home was building tiny picnic tables for squirrels. Yes, you read that right. Squirrel picnic tables.

We have a very friendly squirrel that lives in our oak tree; my spouse has named him Kevin. He prefers his endless buffet of Amazon-purchased treats. Despite plenty of acorns, Susan feeds Kevin a special squirrel mix she buys online. She’s found that he prefers peanuts – in the shell and salt-free. He doesn’t like corn, but he loves coconut clusters.

I don’t know if he likes Oreo cookies or Cheetos, and I’m not going to share.

Kevin is more than just a rodent with a good publicist. He’s become a part of the Simpson community along with our pets and the soon-to-be-migrating hummingbirds. Kevin positively contributes to Susan’s social and emotional health.

Susan asked me what my October column would be about. I told her that Kevin is a metaphor for community. She wasn’t convinced, so here I go.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

First coined by the philosopher Aristotle, this phrase aptly defines the modern concept of cooperation, collaboration or teamwork. Prior to 2019, the Broken Arrow Senior Center was a fairly flat organization – meaning we managed people and programs – with a level budget and a slowly increasing member base.

During the past two years, we squeezed additional programming into an already tight schedule of activities. We had 40 people who wanted to take a class in a room that could only hold 20. We added dining capacity to feed 48 people. And some fitness classes had to spread into the kitchen/dining room, although not during lunchtime.

The barriers to growth were all building-related. We just didn’t have enough room.

Our mission stated that BASC “provides a safe place for older adults to be physically active and socially engaged.” That’s very specific. It also refers to BASC as a “place.” After all, part of our name is “Center.”

Since March 2020, my team has looked at BA Seniors differently, as an organization that fosters a sense of “community.” We’ve heard that from members, volunteers, corporate partners, funders and civic leaders.

We are no longer just a structure with walls and a roof. We are much more than that. BAS is more than the sum of its parts – members, programs, information, education and such. That was evident as we started reopening the Center in July. Members didn’t miss the building at 1800 S. Main St. They missed the community that is BAS. Your body missed fitness classes. Your mind missed the information and education presentations. Emotionally, you missed being around other humans with something in common – a (socially distanced) 55+ sense of togetherness.

The BAS mission has changed. Now it reads:

“We are the model in the region for promoting healthy social, emotional and physical engagements for adults 55 and older through programmed activities and social opportunities.”

That’s a clear definition of community.

We are a model. Other senior centers in the state have come to learn about our organization. Yes, we are breaking ground soon on an additional building – Senior Center East. We are expanding our “community,” not just adding an additional 12,000 square feet.

We promote healthy social, emotional and physical engagements. The “healthy” part is tricky during a pandemic. That’s why we don’t offer every activity – pool, dominoes and cards are still off the table – but we’re working at adding more, such as crochet, guitar and the fitness center. What members have told us the past seven months is that they miss and crave the social opportunities the BAS community has in abundance. It takes a team to deliver on our mission promise. I’ve had the privilege of being the BAS director for two years; some days it feels like two lifetimes. I know that success rarely happens by itself in the absence of focused team-building efforts and activities. This is why every team needs a focused leader who is able to deal with every aspect of teamwork issues before they become problems or obstacles.

As the BAS leader, I love the new mission statement. It fills me – and Aristotle, too – with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The BAS board of directors helped shape the new mission statement, the verbiage of which I’ve shared many times since I took the helm two years ago: social, emotional and physical health. I knew that BAS was more than a building – my parents told me so for many years.

BAS is not a building. Our sense of togetherness is bigger than that.

BAS is greater than the sum of its parts.

BAS is a community. We are because of you.