Senior Action was started more than 55 years ago (1967) because a group of community leaders saw a need to advocate for seniors in Greenville. Originally named the “Greenville Area Action Council on Aging” they had a meager office located in the YWCA building on August St. and they were a formative group led by “Mrs. T. Charles Gower, Jr. (many in Greenville knew her as the beloved and formidable Elizabeth “Ducky” Gower). They were responsible for bringing awareness of seniors’ needs and many services to Greenville including housing for seniors, unemployment assistance, volunteer programs, and Meals on Wheels.
They also saw a need for seniors to have a place to gather and have community together. Mrs. Gower and the Greenville Area Action Council on Aging formed the first senior center in Greenville, aptly named “The Greenville Senior Center,” in downtown Greenville in 1968. Five churches in downtown Greenville joined together to open this center (each committing $50 per month for a year). They were First Baptist Greenville, Buncombe Street United Methodist, First Presbyterian, Christ Church Episcopal, and St. Mary’s Catholic Church. We joke that when five different denominations agree to work together, it must be divine intervention!
They operated both of these organizations until 1973 when they decided to merge and officially become Senior Action. In five short years, they outgrew that house downtown and were fortunate to gain support from both the City and County of Greenville to select the land to build a new center.
After a great deal of planning that new center opened in 1976 on McBee Avenue in downtown Greenville. Centrally located, it also benefitted from a senior adult apartment complex that was built right next door. They called that center “home” for 30 years and moved to the center on Directors Drive (off Orchard Park Drive) in 2006.
The opening of the Orchard Park/Directors Drive location was welcomed with a huge crowd of people eager to be back together in one place and excited for a new center. That center stayed the main headquarters for Senior Action for 15 years. But truth is, we actually outgrew it in about five years.
In 2014, the organization began looking for a new place to call home. The organization was booming with new members, had grown almost 200% in members, had expanded services to include medical transportation, home care, lawn care assistance, home delivered meals, and six partnership locations all over Greenville County.
While we looked for a new building we knew that this space had to be so much more than just a new building. The senior population was growing exponentially and the people wanting and needing our services was too. We had to think about how we would be able to continue to meet the changing, and growing, needs of seniors now and in the future. Seniors are living more active and healthy lives and we needed a place that would encourage and support that healthy lifestyle and also provide support for seniors as they age.
So in 2019 we bought a shopping center! Our vision was that this place would allow us to significantly expand our current services but also create a hub for seniors all over the county to connect with others, and find community. It also gave us the opportunity to earn some needed income so that we can continue to grow our services.
Construction began in March 2020 and while overcoming significant challenges throughout the year, the new space is ready to welcome people on April 21. This amazing new space is 35,000 sq feet, more than twice that of our former location. It includes an event hall that will seat 400 people and can be divided into 4 smaller spaces, larger fitness rooms, and for the first time, a Fine Arts Center that will feature music, visual art, and movement classes. It is stunning.
I once had a board member ask me, “Is Senior Action a building or is Senior Action a force for seniors?” This question has stayed with me for many years and I believe I have finally determined the answer.
Senior Action is both. From its storied history to its current new and exciting chapter, Senior Action has advocated for the needs and issues facing seniors in Greenville and in the state. We have brought attention to the needs for affordable housing, transportation options, food insecurity, quality of life, and access to services. We have challenged our community leaders and funders to consider the aging population and their needs.
But we are also a building. A place that is recognizable and gives the organization an anchor. The people inside give it its identity. They bring memories, stories, art, music, friendship, and caring. Inside its walls we will celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, compare aches and pains, and mourn losses of loved ones. We will build stronger bodies and minds and we will chase away loneliness with a sense of purpose and joy.
This new building is a giant leap forward to help Senior Action expand our ability to be both a building and a force for seniors. We hope that when you walk in the doors of this new center that you well feel the energy and passion that is Senior Action. It comes from many years and many people who have loved and cared for the senior population in our community. It is an opportunity for us to shout loudly that today’s senior population is active, healthy, creative, original, exuberant, and not forgotten. We are putting the exclamation in life!
Check out this video celebrating our 55th Birthday!