For Arlene Cummings, widowed many years ago, the Pecos Senior Center in Ahwatukee Foothills has been a social lifeline.
Cummings, 73, began donating her time at the center's original location at 51st Street and Elliot Road after moving to the area from San Francisco six years ago. When the city of Phoenix-operated center moved to its current location on 48th Street south of Pecos Road about three years later, she followed.
"When I first moved here, I only knew one person," Cummings said. "From that moment on, I've been a volunteer. They feel like family members."
Senior center officials are hoping others will find them, as well. Becky Franco, human services coordinator, said there is a reservoir of thousands of seniors living in the area. Over the next several months, the center will be ramping up the number of activities it provides and reaching out to those people, she said.
"We recognize we have a lot of members in the community that are not fully utilizing our center," Franco said. "It's all about engaging seniors."
Tere Garcia, a senior center assistant, said the plan is to pass out calendars of events throughout the community, put inserts in local newspapers, and work with local churches, neighborhood associations and businesses to get the word out.
"We're starting to do even more outreach to the community. We want them to know we are here," she said. "There a big potential out there."
Programs include an indoor walking club, gentle yoga and movie screenings. More events are expected to start in the fall, such as classes in Tai Chi and drawing.
"We're starting to plan more and more activities," Garcia said.
Bingo is one of the most popular events, attracting up to 70 people at a time, she said.
"They don't play for money. They play for baked goods and prizes," Garcia said.
The programs give seniors who otherwise might spend their days coping with loneliness a place to meet friends, she said.
"I would say a lot of them have lost their partners or spouses," Garcia said.
Longtime volunteer Virginia Morton said the center helps get seniors out of the house.
"This is a place they can come for recreation, socialization and a nice lunch," Morton said.
Al Sipek, 89, is a frequent visitor to the senior center, along with his wife, Madelene. Sipek said he was a cook in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and now volunteers in the center's kitchen.
"I don't feel like cooking at home, so I come here everyday," he said. "I enjoy working with people."
Franco noted that participants come from across the socio-economic spectrum. Many are on a fixed income, and for a voluntary $2.50 donation, they can get a meal.
"It helps expand their food budget," she said.
There is a $10 fee to join the senior center, which gives patrons access to the larger Pecos Community Center. The senior center is always in need of volunteers, Franco said. To volunteer, call (602) 534-5366.
The center also has a bus service for seniors 60 years old and older. Each ride carries a voluntary fee of $1.25. Those who are interested can call the center to register, and the center will coordinate the transportation. To reserve a ride, call (602) 262-4400.