Long-awaited Baker Senior Center Naples opens in North Collier County
A new year brings a new location and a new name for a popular center for seniors in Collier County.
Employees and volunteers debuted the Baker Senior Center Naples with a soft launch Jan. 4 at its new location, 6200 Autumn Oaks Lane, which provides the program with its own permanent home and ability to expand.
Previously known as Naples Senior Center, the nonprofit organization provides a host of social-focused activities and operates a dementia respite program.
Both fill a huge need in fast-growing Collier County where roughly one third of the county’s 386,000 residents are over 65, according to U.S. Census data.
More:State awards $2.4 million in separate projects at two senior centers in Collier
Construction of the 30,000-square-foot, two-story building south of Immokalee Road in North Naples began in late 2021 on the nearly 14-acre site.
The center previously operated in leased space at 5025 Castello Drive near U.S. 41 and Pine Ridge Road that it outgrew long ago when it opened in 2014 with 80 members. A search for a building to renovate or land to build on began in 2017.
More:Naples Senior Center will welcome a new and larger building by end of 2022
The total cost of the new complex is $15 million and it stayed on budget, which included the land, furnishings and related expenses, said Jaclynn Faffer, president and chief executive officer of the organization.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, membership swelled to 1,400 and it dropped off to 900 when activities had to go to Zoom and the popular Wednesday lunch was curtailed because social distancing would not have been possible, she said.
Some members moved back to where they came from to be near family because of the pandemic; others pledged to come back when the Wednesday lunch program started up again, which was Jan. 11.
“I have no doubt we will get up to 1,400 memberships quickly,” Faffer said.
Just last week, the center signed up 100 new members while 150 attended the lunch last week, she said.
More space for growth
With the much large space, more social activities can run at the same time and four rooms on the second floor are dedicated to the dementia respite program, she said.
The center has 23 employees and a dedicated volunteer corps of 225, all of whom are vetted for their qualifications to lead a class.
Many members bring ideas for social activities that get added to the line-up. Roughly 40 different programs are offered each week.
The annual membership is $60 but nobody is turned away because the center’s scholarship program can pick up the expense. Roughly 10% of members have scholarships. The membership covers supplies for classes, snacks and the weekly lunch.
The center has five licensed clinical social workers now who run seven groups a week and the plan is to hire two more to expand, Faffer said.
“We are getting three referrals a day for the dementia respite program,” she said, adding that participants must meet qualifying factors of being assessed and have a diagnosis.
Some of the programs in the dementia program to keep participants engaged are music therapy, art projects, word games, reminiscence and light physical activities.
Currently 48 people with dementia are in the program, where each group session can have 12 participants.
Diane Goldstein, 79, is thrilled by the new building.
“It is beyond beautiful,” she said.
She has been bringing her husband, Bob, 82, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, to the dementia program two days a week. Each session is four hours.
“It has been a lifesaver. I could not survive without it,” she said. “I get the chance to relax or take care of what I need to take care of. It’s giving Bob the chance to be with others and be social.”
Having outdoor space means gardening programs have been added and outdoor exercise is possible.
The new food pantry is twice the size of the old one, and there is a private entrance from the rear of the building for privacy. There is a library and a separate technology room for teaching members how to use computers with eight computer stations.
All the rooms have large televisions for video conferencing.
Is the new building paid for yet?
The fundraising campaign has brought in $24 million while the goal is $30 million to have a reserve for operating expenses now that the building is completed, Faffer said.
Longtime Naples philanthropists Patty and Jay Baker gave a lead gift of $5 million for the building and the Schulze Family Foundation gave a challenge grant of $500,000.
This past summer, the program received $1.4 million from the state Department of Elder Affairs to help with construction cost.
The distance between the old location to the new center is about nine miles.
Faffer said she and her staff have not heard of any transportation challenges for members to get to the new location.
There is paratransit service or volunteers who can help, and if need be the center could consider getting a van, Faffer said.
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: The new year brings opening of the Baker Senior Center Naples