MONROE — Dorothy Sims retired from the real estate business about 30 years ago and grappled with depression over her newfound freedom.
She had dedicated most of her life to her career, and when that time ended, she had no idea what to do.
That all changed when she ventured into the West Ouachita Senior Center and started an entirely new life.
“I didn’t really want to come, because it was a senior center. But I got up here and I made a lot of friends. We go on trips together and we take seminars together. It’s a wonderful home,” Sims said. “This is like family here.”
Today, Sims, 78, volunteers at the senior center, where she helps dozens of local residents create their own works of art.
She recently joined several other senior women as they learned from Texas artist Ann Zitterkopf, who was brought in to West Monroe to teach advanced china painting.
Senior center executive director Jeanette Ellington said the center has offered china painting for more than 30 years. It’s just one of several creative art classes local residents can enjoy at the center. She said these daily classes and activities help keep local seniors active rather than sitting in front of a television.
Studies have found that people who are unmarried and socially isolated are at a higher risk for dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Other research suggests lonely people are at risk of other health problems such as cancer and high blood pressure, according to studies conducted for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Inactive seniors won’t ever be found at the West Ouachita Senior Center, Ellington said.
“They fill their time constructively. They’re not couch potatoes. They’re socializing, and that’s so important for them to come in and interact with other seniors, whether that’s participating in an exercise class or an art class. At the senior center, it’s a proverbial beehive of activity,” Ellington said.
“They are energized when they walk into the door and they’re met with smiles. They talk about the problems and issues they have with aging and they laugh about their aches and pains. It’s just therapeutic for them to come together.”
The senior center was the first place Betty Halley, 75, visited when she moved to West Monroe about eight years ago.
She was looking for a place to pursue her hobbies, such as painting.
In her time with the center, Halley has made a number of lifelong friends. She’s proud she has a place that’s like a second home — full of friends and activities that keep her on her toes.
“As humans, we need to socialize with each other. You have a wide scope of people here and they’re from every walk of life,” Halley said.
Halley is a firm believer that seniors should stay active mentally and physically as much as possible.
She knows of others who have withered away alone in front of a television and she’s promised herself that will never happen to her.
“If you stay active and if you’re doing things like art, it’s good for the mind. Art is very relaxing,” Halley said.