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Orion Center offers plenty for seniors, community

September 21, 2011 - When Lisa Sokol took over as director of the four-room Orion Senior Center eight years ago, she counted 100 active members.

Today, there are more than 1,500 and the numbers keep growing, thanks in part to the area's aging population.

Needless to say, she is looking forward to moving into the 27,000 square-foot Orion Center off of Joslyn Road by the end of the year.

"It is really going to be a beautiful facility," Sokol said. "We definitely will have more room and storage, which will enable us to offer more programming .

"This includes more wellness programs for seniors in our community."

Funding for the building came from monetary reserves generated by host-fees from the Eagle Valley landfill, as well as $600,000 from Orion Neighborhood Television, said Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel. ONTV will occupy a third of the building's top floor.

Construction on the building began last fall and, considering the size of the facility, Sokol says it is "amazing" how fast the facility has taken shape.

"The township board deserves a lot of credit," she stressed. "They had the vision to recognize our changing community and figured out how to provide such an outstanding facility."

People driving by the Orion Center site can see the exterior is virtually done. Crews are now working on a variety of interior work, including painting, carpeting, flooring, electrical and plumbing. A kitchen also is being installed.

Sokol said a generous donation of new furniture, including desks, chairs, sofas and other pieces from residents Steve and Vivian Stolarak, will help equip the offices and common areas.

The Orion Center does not have a gym or pool, but partnerships with Oakland University, Lake Orion High School and Great Lakes Athletic Club (GLAC) on Baldwin Road enable the Orion Center to offer a variety of activities at these locations.

Sokol said she has been especially pleased with the relationship with GLAC, providing seniors with access to its pool, indoor track and exercise rooms.

"There has been a lot of demand for our programs there," she said. "We have seen seniors sign up for twice-a-week classes and enjoy them so much that they've become regular members of the club and really changed their lifestyles."

The Orion Center will feature an exercise room, equipped with fitness machines funded by a federal grant. The nature of the funding requires the room to be reserved for persons 62 and older, as well as for persons with special needs, Sokol said.

The community at-large will be able to enjoy the facility's wood-floored studio for yoga, dance, zumba, karate and similar classes for all ages. In addition, the building features a greatly enlarged arts and crafts room, including a kiln for ceramics and pottery projects.

A partnership with Crittenton Hospital Medical Center is enabling the township to include a Wellness Center on the first floor, where a nurse will be on-site two days per week and special programs on healthy living and other services, such as flu shots, will be offered to seniors.

Active seniors can join the facility for an annual membership fee of $20 for a single persons, $35 for couples. Non-township residents can join for $50/$85. Residents using the exercise room will be charged $5 per month (non-residents $15 per month). Certain programs also have additional fees.

"We're trying to make access to the Orion Center very reasonable for seniors, while helping defray some of the costs associated with operating the facility," Sokol said.

Revenues also will be generated through the rental of the dining facility on the upper level of the building, which can be split into three separate rooms. The director said they will be marketing this for weddings, reunions, fundraisers and similar events. The facility features a full kitchen.

The Orion Center also will continue to offer a full Meals-on-Wheels program, as well as hot lunches served to seniors each day for a $3 donation. The Orion Township Public Library will continue to run a branch at the Orion Center, too.

"This will really be an all-in-one location for seniors and many of their needs," Sokol explained.

For those needing a ride to the facility, the North Oakland Transportation Authority will pick-up and drop-off members. NOTA also will continue to take seniors to doctor appointments and provide transportation to seniors who go on Orion Center-sponsored trips.

Van Tassel said she recognizes some residents may feel the Orion Center is just for seniors, with an emphasis on programming to meet their needs, but this will change.

"Over time, I think you'll find plenty of things for everyone," she said. "People will see this facility and say, 'wow, this is great look at all the things we can do.' I really expect that kind of reaction when the Orion Center opens."

Sokol said a grant is in process to build a trail-head linking the Orion Center to the Poly Ann Trail. There is a 20-car parking lot there now for trail access. The grant would provide a pavilion, handicapped access and restroom facilities for trail users.

Local corporate sponsor(s) also are being sought for outdoor exercise stations leading from the Orion Center to the proposed trail-head, she added.

A community garden at the Orion Center also is in the works for next spring. It will provide fresh produce for persons throughout the community who want to garden, but may not be able to plant or grow their own vegetables.

The Orion Center is located at 1335 Joslyn Road.

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