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Orem Senior Friendship Center is putting the bling in golden years

By Genelle Pugmire - | Jan 14, 2022

Courtesy Gena Bertlesen

People walk into the Senior Friendship Center on the first day back after COVID-19 hiatus.

Working to keep the bling in the golden years, the Orem Senior Friendship Center is back — and building business — following a COVID-19 hiatus through 2020 and parts of 2021.

“We opened fully in April of 2021 to a line of patrons wanting to come in, sign up and get a hug,” said Gena Bertlesen, center director.

Bertlesen started nine years ago at the Friendship Center with an average daily attendance of about 99 people for the center’s programs and lunch. Pre-COVID attendance had reached an average of 504 a day. Bertlesen said they are getting close to that number again and there are about 3,600 seniors on the membership list.

“Classes are booming, lunches are being provided and BINGO, well … it’s as big as ever,” Bertlesen said. “On Thursday we had 90 seniors playing.”

Bertlesen said many people come and meet others, and those visits develop into real friendships. She said just this week a man joined that had hesitated, thinking no one would understand him. He recently moved from the Bronx, a borough of New York City, and his wife pushed him to get out of the house.

Courtesy Orem City

Seniors do their sit and stay fit exercises as a regular part of the Senior Friendship Center program. Orem Fitness Center now has its fitness classes at the friendship center during the rebuild of the fitness center building. 

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Bertlesen told him. “I have someone I want you to meet.”

She introduced the new member to Ricky, a former New York City fire fighter who participated in the cleanup from Sept. 11 and moved to Utah a year later.

Bertlesen added that there are many people with interesting backgrounds and histories who still need interaction, and they find it at the Senior Friendship Center.

“COVID has not kept us down,” Bertlesen said. “We gained many new friends through the pandemic when people realized that seeing a friendly face, having somewhere to socialize, exercise and learn meant a whole lot to your mental health. We are always hoping to have more people join us.”

She noted that there have been some deaths from COVID-19 during the hiatus, but they can be counted on one hand. While they are missed, many new faces are coming to the center.

Courtesy Gena Bertlesen

Thanksgiving lunch at the Orem Senior Friendship Center.

“Our classes for Brilliant University begin January 24,” Bertlesen said. Brilliant University classes include: sewing, ukulele, Keto 101 cooking, watercolor group, yoga, Native American flute, writing personal history, I Love Literature, Mastermind class, think spring — edible gardening, What’s Your Sign — study of Astrology, Mixed media art and Constitution Alive, a study of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Orem’s Golden K Kiwanis meet weekly and consider the Friendship Center facility their home, Bertlesen noted.

“Membership is only $17 annually and carries so many benefits,” she said. “I like to tell people, ‘We store and maintain all of your exercise equipment, pool tables, sewing room, wood shop and more. We offer lunch Monday through Friday at noon. Our classes and activities are top notch and we recently accepted the Utah Recreation and Parks Association Best Programming award.'”

Lunch is served each week day, and Bertlsen said she has added fun to the noontime event.

“Knowing how important it is to keep seniors as strong as possible, we have incorporated our 15-minute pre-lunch crunch where every day, Monday through Friday, at 11:45 a.m. we gather in the dining hall and do Tai Chi and strengthening movements to fun music. It has already made a difference for so many of our friends,” Bertlesen noted.

Sammy Jo Hester, Daily Herald file photo

Kay Bradford tosses a hoop during Flamingo Day at Orem Friendship Center on Friday, June 23, 2017. The event features games, food and seniors dressing in pink flamingo outfits.

The next big event will be the yearly Grammy Awards on March 25 starting at 10:30 a.m. and ending with a lunch at noon. The event will be honoring more than 90 volunteers that help at the center. The usual red carpet walk will be available and seniors are invited to dress in their best dress or formal attire. Several star impersonators will be on hand to entertain the group.

“All of our big events have been going strong,” Bertlesen said.

Membership is open to seniors age 55 and older. Members do not have to live in Orem to take advantage of all the center offers.

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