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The Journal Gazette

  •  Greg Jones | The Journal Gazette Manager Patti Davis uses volunteers to help provide programs at the Community Center.

Thursday, June 15, 2017 1:00 am

'Volunteers are the foundation'

Make Community Center a success, manager asserts

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette

How exactly does Patti Davis and her staff of eight, including four part-timers, do it all?

Davis, manager of the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department Community Center for the last two years, has numerous programs, services, seminars and activities for enthusiasts of all ages.

That doesn't even include the big events, such as the Senior Games from June 5 to 22 that has 32 events and includes more than 400 50-and-older participants. There is also Winter Carnival, Fright Night activities, Santa's Workshop and Act of Aging week in September.

All this in a center open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every weekday but has programs that run until 9 p.m. and, oh yeah, there is weekend rental availability for wedding receptions, birthday parties and church groups.

The staffing answer is simple: volunteers.

Davis, 47, said the Community Center has more than 186 active volunteers. In 2016, the center's 9,000 volunteer hours were an increase of 1,500 hours over the prior year. 

“Volunteers are very important to us,” said Davis, who has been with the Community Center 27 years and has been working with the Parks and Recreation Department for 29 years. “Volunteers are the foundation of the Community Center. We couldn't operate without volunteers. 

“Everybody has interests and hobbies, and we will even create positions around their interests and hobbies because they need something to do. My philosophy is everybody has something to give back, and let's get them out to be social and do activities. We do have some very dedicated and versatile volunteers.”

The volunteers are so important to the Community Center that Davis and Co. established the annual volunteer recognition program; this year it was May 5. There are three major volunteer awards – the Edna Berdelman Award, the Gerri Cook Award and the Outstanding Commitment Award.

There are also other incentives, such as quarterly socials and tickets that come from sponsors, which usually go to volunteers first.

“Volunteers are my first area that I go to because they are giving to the Community Center, and so I believe in giving back and helping them,” Davis said of any tickets to events that she receives. 

Volunteers are the backbone of the center and fill positions such as greeters, information desk personnel, program coordinators and help with tax programs, computer classes and lunches. Davis said volunteers often make these important programs cost effective to the participants. She added that some volunteers have a family connection to someone at the center or are simply looking for a social outlet. 

Davis, her staff and the nearly 200 volunteers continue to make the Community Center what she calls “the best-kept secret” in Fort Wayne. But Davis would like to see that change.

“My goal is to make sure it is no longer a secret,” Davis said.

She might be getting her wish. 

A year ago, the Community Center began a program called Unwind Your Mind, which is designed to assist those with early dementia to keep their brains active to slow down the condition through activities such as art and music classes. Before this program, Davis said nothing like it had existed. 

Recently, the center has received inquires from around the country about Unwind Your Mind to set up similar programs. 

“It sounds like the word is getting out,” Davis said. “We are on the map somewhere because someone from the actual (dementia) association and someone contacted them about this type of program; … somehow they were referred to me. We are getting some attention. It is worth all the extra work and hours.”