Senior center directors bring joy to community

April Sauchuk, program director at Ledyard Senior Center, center, chats with diners during the center's St. Patrick's Day luncheon.

Ledyard - On St. Patrick's Day afternoon, the senior center's recreation room was green from top to bottom - tablecloths, plastic clovers, hand-knit napkin holders, and the festive clothes of a few dozen seniors, cheerfully answering trivia questions on the history of the holiday.

But their favorite part of the event wasn't the favors or treats. It was Program Director April Sauchuk and Senior Director Lauren Rapp, who have been running the center for not quite two years and have already, according to regulars, made the center a better place.

Anne Dame, 72, has come regularly to the center from Canterbury for years. One change she has noticed, she said, is that there are more volunteers. People want to come here, she said - and that wouldn't happen if people weren't happy.

"The attitude has just changed so much for the better," she said.

One of those volunteers is Charlie Fitzsimmons, who has lived in town for 25 years. When he retired recently, he said, he wanted to do something that felt fulfilling.

"I needed something to keep me out of trouble," he said.

He's done a little more than that. Since last fall, he started a hiking club, became the center's unofficial IT guy, and during a recent visit, he brought in the center's new mascot, a German shepherd puppy named Ciro.

Both Rapp and Sauchuk are on a first-name basis with every person who walks in the door. And whether it's the weekly lunches, or events like the St. Patrick's Day celebration, they create a place every day that's fun to come to, said Mary Jane Peterson, 78, of Gales Ferry.

And they don't overlook the details.

"They go to so much trouble making all these things," said Marnie Reubelt, 78, of Gales Ferry, gesturing at the decorations.

Rapp, who became the center's director in May of 2012, has even bigger visions than the one they created that day. Those include major renovations - building a wraparound deck outside, a firepit, a putting green, an outdoor amphitheater, perhaps even adding a second floor.

It's all part of the driving spirit of the center, which she hopes to make more visible so as to draw even more seniors.

"Reaching out to the community is our biggest message," she said.

Sauchuk came on board in the summer of 2012 after working as a program coordinator at the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center. Before that, Sauchuk was a dental office receptionist when she decided to take some time off to consider what she'd like to do next in her career.

Heavily involved with seniors at her church, she decided to parlay something she enjoyed - and had a clear knack for - into her next job.

"I love to be very creative and active and engaging, getting people to talk," she said. "I just love to connect to people, I guess, and draw them in."

But more than that, Sauchuk said she is motivated to make seniors feel like they are a vital part of their community, whether through volunteering, exercising, doing a craft or going on a trip, so they feel like they are still somebody, she said - because they are.

"They still have so much to give," she said.

A.ISAACS@THEDAY.COM

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