By Karen Billing
The Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center will celebrate 25 years of service to the community with a party and poker tournament on Saturday, Nov. 16.
The party will be held from 6-11 p.m. at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, complete with a silent auction, music, great food and “Rumble in the Ranch,” a no-limit Texas Hold ‘em poker tournament. The poker tournament begins at 7 p.m.
“It’s such a unique place,” said Terrie Litwin, who has been the executive director of the RSF Senior Center for the last nine years. “We’re really working hard to get the word out that we’re here. Some people have lived here awhile and don’t even know there’s a senior center.”
Cheryl Ford, the assistant director who has been the center’s only other professional staff member for the last 12 years, said their goal is to be a valuable presence in the community, to offer seniors reliable information and advocacy, transportation, health outreach and education, safety and security, as well as social activities and the opportunity to continue to learn and be creative.
The RSF Senior Center offers a full docket of programs and activities, all offered without a membership fee.
The RSF Senior Center had humble beginnings — starting in 1988 at a metal desk in the corner of the Rancho Santa Fe Library with a “fireball leader” named Ginger Warwick (later to become Ginger Bord, who served as the RSF Senior Center’s executive director for 17 years). In the beginning days of the Senior Center, Bord led a group of volunteers called the Ranch Hands who reached out to seniors to offer help with various programs, rides and home visits.
By 2000, the Senior Center had outgrown its space in the RSF Library Guild basement and, somewhat fortuitously, The Colley-Hilton House on La Gracia had come on the market.
“They were able to purchase the house thanks to donations from community members that wanted the Senior Center to have a place of its own,” Litwin said.
The Colley-Hilton House, a 1925 Lilian Rice home that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was conveniently located near the center of town.
It officially became the new RSF Senior Center in 2002. The two-bedroom abode was converted to offices with gathering spaces and handicapped access. The property also features an inviting lawn and rose garden in front, and in the back garden there are additional seating areas, flower beds and gravel pathways. Both gardens are open to the public during the week.
Once the RSF Senior Center had its own house the RSF Senior Center was able to expand its programs, Litwin said.
There is often something going on in the front sitting room, be it music appreciation class, art history, oil painting, a weekly knitting group, acting class, writing workshops or Rancho San Café, a French discussion group for people wanting to practice speaking French language over cups of coffee.
“We have a great group of people who take advantage of our classes and programs,” Litwin said.
Litwin said when seniors request specific activities they do their best to fulfill them — as several seniors wanted to learn the game of bridge, they brought in a bridge instructor. Questions about health topics such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and the healthcare system has led to them finding speakers for presentations.
Helping seniors maintain their health is a major focus and the Senior Center has become a convenient location for things such as flu shots or blood pressure checks. Blood pressure checks are offered the last Thursday of the month from 9:30-10:30 a.m., provided by San Diego Medical Services.
Another very unique offering is the center’s resource and referral service. If seniors need any kind of assistance, the center’s staff will help find solutions free of charge. Understanding that family members can be scattered, Litwin said they will also work with out-of-town family members.
The center also has great relationships with the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department — the groups have spoken to seniors about scams and senior safety, and the center maintains a list of seniors for the Patrol who may need assistance in the event of an emergency.
As the center does as much as possible for its members free of charge, it relies heavily on community support.
“Fundraising is always the challenge for non-profits,” Litwin said.
The center does two mail-out appeals every year and holds at least one large fundraiser — this year’s fundraiser ties in with the anniversary party. Proceeds from the celebration and poker tournament will go toward the center, to ensure Rancho Santa Fe’s seniors remain taken care of.
“We want to see it grow and for programs to expand and always shift to meet the needs of the seniors we’re serving,” Litwin said. “We want to remain a vital organization that’s available to our seniors here in the community.”
A $100 party pass includes food, wine tasting, music and shopping at the silent auction. A $200 player pass gets all the above plus a seat in the “Rumble in the Ranch” poker tournament. All seniors in attendance will receive an autographed copy of Richard Lederer’s book “The Gift of Age.” Register by calling (858) 756-3041.