SOWEGA Council on Aging Executive Director Kay Hind, right, and the agency’s development director, Izzie Sadler, stand at the site of where the council’s enrichment center will be constructed. The work is the realization of Hinds’ two-decade-old dream.
ALBANY At some point in the next few days, Kay Hind will call a news conference to announce a formal groundbreaking ceremony for the SOWEGA Council on Aging’s new $6.3 million Life Enrichment Center at 335 W. Society St.
Then, some time in the next 18 months or so, Albany’s LRA Constructors will finish the project that will be a grand event center for senior citizens served by the council and for the community at large. And the shining new facility will become a part of Albany proper.
But anyone who even remotely knows Hind — anyone who understands how the Council on Aging and its participants and programs have become central to her life of service — knows that the groundbreaking and grand opening of the Enrichment Center will be like many Christmases rolled into one for Hind, whose little-girl enthusiasm for the project has not waned in more than two decades of championing its construction.
“It gives me goosebumps to even talk about it,” said Hind, holding up her arm for proof. “To think that this is really going to be ...”
Hind doesn’t finish the thought, temporarily overcome by the magnitude of the discussion.
“I want to see this finished; I want to enjoy it,” she says, picking right back up. “But the beautiful thing about this project is it will continue to serve this community long after I’m gone. So I can’t just sit back and enjoy the fact that this thing that I’ve been talking up and talking about for around 20 years is finally being built.
“Time moves fast. We’ve got to get busy getting ready.”
The final comment is vintage Kay Hind. Since being appointed executive director of the Council on Aging in 1968, she has worked tirelessly and vigilantly on behalf of senior citizens. The state of Georgia even recognized her in February as the state’s Distinguished Older Georgian.
Still, it’s the senior center that has consumed a large portion of her last two decades.
“It’s hard to say how this whole thing started,” Hind said. “I started talking about it somewhere around 20 years ago and we actually hired an architect to start working on the drawings some time around 2007. But the whole process has been under way since I first started talking about it all those years ago.”
Hind’s dream started its painfully slow journey toward reality in 2008 when Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital donated $1.2 million worth of property for the Council on Aging to use as the site of the planned center. There were other fits and starts along the way — “bumps in the road,” Hind calls them — but in January 2010 demolition began on structures located on the Phoebe-donated property.
Those structures included a number of residences and the sanctuary and associated buildings of the former Byne Baptist Church.
All the bumps and logistics issues out of the way at last, LRA started moving equipment and doing site work at the property Sept. 10.
“I was so thrilled to see them out there,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it was really happening.”
While work is ongoing at the Life Enrichment Center — which will include a gymnasium, activity rooms for senior citizens, more than 60 office spaces, a commercial kitchen, a large multipurpose room and many other amenities — Hind, the Council on Aging’s board of directors, community supporters and particularly Development Director Izzie Sadler will be working feverishly to raise money to complete the project.
“This is a faith move,” Hind said. “We don’t have all the funding for the building in place, but we have faith we will raise that money. If we need to, we have a letter of credit that will allow us to get a mortgage. But we’re going to do everything we can to raise the money we need.”
The Council has $3 million in voter-approved special-purpose local-option sales tax funding set aside for the project, and its officials have raised more than $5 million for the project. But plans and other associated costs have drained $1 million of the total already, and LRA’s low bid on the center came in at $6,310,000.
“With all we have to do — landscaping, furnishing, other costs — and the construction, we’re about $3 million short of what we need to pay everything off,” Hind said.
Hind and the Council on Aging’s board started generating donations to put aside for the center long before anyone started talking about construction. Plans got a huge boost when U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, helped secure HUD grants for the project over a four-year span. Another financial boost came when one of the council’s most ardent supporters and volunteers died and left bonds to be used specifically to finance the center.
“And we always have held fundraisers,” Hind said. “At the end of each year, after we cleared it with the state, if we had money left over from our activities funds, we’d put that in our pot. We were able to accumulate a good bit that way.”
Council supporters like Sherman Willis and Reba Stewart formed an informal committee that met to talk about ways to help the agency raise funds for the center, and they told Hind she had to bring a development director on board to help with fundraisers.
“They said, ‘You don’t need someone for the short-term. You need someone who’s good at this to do it on a permanent basis,’” Hind said.
With a background in nonprofit fundraising, the newly hired (one year ago exactly) Sadler came on board and hit the ground running. She convinced Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick to host a luncheon for area business leaders at which she and Hind shared their dream for the Life Enrichment Center.
“Many made pledges or wrote us checks right there,” Hind said.
Sadler and Hines took their fundraising efforts “to the next level” a short while later, hosting a breakfast with another tier of business and community leaders to whom they made their pitch. Stewart and 20 or so volunteers have since conducted a phone-a-thon seeking donations, and the organization is preparing now to take its fundraising efforts directly to the community.
“What we hope is that people will realize this facility will not be just for the senior citizens of our region,” Sadler said. “That’s why we’re not calling it a senior center. Yes, we will continue to sponsor and host core events that are essential to the SOWEGA Council on Aging. But we hope other groups and organizations will want to utilize our facility as well.
“We’ll have a beautiful place large enough for 500 people, and you won’t find anything else like that around here that will have the beautiful hard-wood floors we’ll have. Of course, we’ll also host some events as a public service; we’re part of the community and we want to give back, not just take.”
Some in the community have already donated furniture that will help cut costs.
“We don’t want people to just drop stuff off to get rid of it, but we will take donations of items that will not detract from the facility,” Hind said. “We’re looking for ways to cut our budget.”
Such matters are, Hind notes, for future discussion. Right now, as construction workers get busy building her dream, she’s still got too much on her plate to worry much about what’s going on over at West Society. Still, Council on Aging clients and supporters will forgive her if her mind wanders that way on occasion.
After all, it’s where her heart has been for the last 20 years.