South Walton's Senior Center was the topic of conversation recently at a gathering of interested individuals at the District 5 County Commissioner's office.

One of the main people behind a push to expand services at the Senior Center is retired clinical social worker and therapist Jennifer Clauson.

Clauson does not feel the trailer currently being used for the senior center is sufficient to meet the needs of the aging community.

The trailer is located on County Road 393N and formerly housed a satellite office for the health department.

The trailer itself is owned by the American Legion and the county rents it from them for $1 a year.

Clauson feels the facility is run down and does not have the room to offer programs for larger groups.

"There is a huge population of elderly here and we need resources to help people age in place," she said. "I've spent time in assisted living places and you don't want to be there. More people could be at home if they had more resources. We could make aging in place less stressful by providing information about diet, nutrition, staying active, and preparing for eventual death. We could have speakers for a caregiver support group. It could be a place to go to see people, with senior games and be fun. If we make it more functional people will go and not just for a meal. A lot of people would use the services."

Clauson said parking is an issue at the Senior Center as it is limited. And, currently, one meal per day is offered, as well as movies, and wii bowling.

"There is so much more," she said.

Clauson looks at the Tallahassee Senior Center for what South Walton's could be.

"I could see it under the umbrella of a civic center, or the Boys & Girls Club," she said. "Don't isolate seniors. Seniors will listen to kids when they talk, and there could be a good overlap. There could be bingo, music, trivia, movies, lunch, wifi, computers, and a garden where seniors and kids could garden together. Once a month a speaker could come in and speak. This would stimulate seniors and keep them active so they could age in place. Currently, no one is using the Boys & Girls Club in the morning or evening."

By bringing District 5 County Commissioner Cindy Meadows on board and through having open discussion meetings, Clauson said she is seeking direction.

"The DeFuniak Senior Center gets more money and can do more. We are trying to get more money for ours. There are going to be a lot of seniors in our community," said Clauson. "If we could get town center land, that would be ideal. We are limited in what can be offered in a trailer. The trailer will hold three or four fold-up tables, which will serve 20 people max. And, right now, it's only open half a day. DeFuniak and Destin offer so much more. It should be a place you can stop in to get a cup of coffee and socialize. I guess this is my calling now that I am also getting to that age.

"We want to do something in addition to meals," she said. "We are asking what activities people would like to see. Casino trips, and tai chi classes that are not so crowded, etc."

Regular meetings are being planned to discuss the possibilities of what can be done to expand the possibilities for aging seniors in the community, and the ultimate goal is to secure a larger suitable facility.

"It will take years but we want to work towards that," she said. "We want to invite people from agencies already providing services to get involved, such as Sacred Heart, so we're not duplicating services , but providing complimenting services. There has been a lot of interest, and, the more people find out about it, there will be more interest. People don't know what's available here or how to take advantage of it."

On any given day, an average of 12 to 15 people show up to play bingo, trivia, or cards at the Senior Center, said manager Shari Roberts. She agrees that more seniors might come out if there was more money to provide more activities, and that getting the county involved could open that door.

"Presently, we receive only a small amount of money from the county, but basically, we are federally funded," she said.

The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and a free hot lunch is served.