Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Friendly Community Center in Barrett Township

No. No! It’s not what you think. It’s a place to get fit, stay healthy, and have fun.
By Kevin Conroy
“We’re a community hub,” smiles Nicole Abrams, director of The Friendly Community Center, where participants serve one another with support, learning, and friendship.
But the Friendly Community Center is having an identity crisis, and many people remain confused about what this center is. Let’s start with what the Community Center is not. Friendly Community Center is not part of any library, is not exclusive to residents of Barrett Township, nor is it an average senior center.
Yes, the building at 6683 Route 191 in Mountainhome, PA, was dedicated as the Barrett Friendly Library in 1913, but there is nothing library left about the place. Architect Bill Raczko, whose accomplishments include projects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, and Yankee Stadium among many others, saw to that in an $820,000 renovation spanning two years. Old shelving was removed down to bare timbers, and the building repurposed to become an inviting, open space for another century of service. A timber-vaulted ceiling and old stone fireplaces remain to add character in the bright, clean span.  
“We were part of a wonderful, dedicated team of members in the community who made the Center possible,” say Bill and his wife Joyce.
And, yes, the Friendly Community Center does lease their facility to the Monroe County Area Agency on Aging to serve lunch and provide wellness programs for seniors. Board member Nancy Hooke calls the Community Center the senior center of the future. “We don't just focus on the elderly, but also on generations living well,” Nancy says. “We are so much more than just a senior center.”
Well the seniors must be good sharers, because the Friendly Community Center arranges other activities morning noon and night. People of all stripes meet up there, people of contrasting interests and ages, whether they’re into travel and history, snowshoeing, or the thrill of catching and banding Saw-whet owls.
“You get to see a lot of people you don’t see every day,” says Elaine Bubb, who teaches gardening there. “It brings in a wide array of folks. FCC offers a lot more than what people are thinking.” She’s right. In fact, membership includes so many programs we can’t present all of them here; what follows is only a cross section of their offerings. 
“I guarantee you’ll make new friends,” says Barrett Bird Club founder Darryl Speicher, who joins with local bird enthusiasts at Friendly Community Center. “The gist of Barrett Bird Club is to get together and share our love of birds. We gather to share photos, recent sightings, and become more knowledgeable on where to go locally to see birds in varying habitats. We have themes and programs, and invite guests to speak about what birds we might see in the winter, say, that we can’t see any other time of year. We also organize birding adventures that meet at FCC on a Saturday or Sunday, and go from there.”
Fitness classes, including Cardio Sculpt, Barre Fitness, Zumba, Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi, some of which are designed for people coping with mobility issues, require varying levels of membership to join. So what is it about the community center that makes it a good place to hold the Men Get Fit program? “The people of Barrett Township and the surrounding area,” says National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified Bob Larsen. “Great people, great community!” Bob’s style of interval instruction is one of the most effective ways to get fit quickly, and allows men of any age or health level to exercise without feeling they’re competing. “The room we work out in is spacious and clean,” adds Bob. “FCC also has an outdoor exercise circuit we use on nice weather days.” The group has had substantial gains in overall fitness, with the cardiovascular conditioning of the participants increased tremendously.
Great Decisions, a national program of thought-provoking discussions sponsored by the Foreign Policy Association, is held at the Friendly Community Center. “Truthfully, our group almost invariably comes away from each discussion with the conclusion that there are a few clear answers to most issues,” says 2018 moderator Karen Tetor. “The discussions give us greater insight into the challenge of developing foreign policies, and the danger of not understanding the complexities.”
Many programs do not require membership to join.
The Women’s Circle is a sisterhood run by Colleen LaScala and Sue Ruskin-Mayher. “Our women’s circle is the perfect fit,” says Colleen. “Women of all ages meet in an informal gathering where we greet one another without judgement. It’s an opportunity to share about our day, week, family life, maybe even health concerns. It’s a nice way to show support and learn from the wisdom of others. Friendships continue to develop as word gets out about what a fun and caring group we have here at the Center.”  
Cub Scout Pack 89, established in 1955, is a living part of Pocono community history. At its first meeting, the Pack 89 boys put on a skit called “Westward Ho!” Today, Scouting is for both boys and girls. “Our Scouting program is a fun, hands-on learning experience. It truly builds character and leadership skills,” says Leslie Petroff, who is den leader along with husband Nick. “The FCC provides a safe environment to conduct our meetings, and our Scouts love meeting there. I can't begin to tell you how fortunate and grateful we are to be able to have our meetings at the Friendly Community Center. FCC is a hidden gem!”
The Barrett Township Historical Society’s Cresco station museum is so chockablock full of displays they choose to hold their meetings at the Friendly Center. Because BTHS doesn’t know beforehand if they will have a large or small gathering, the Community Center’s flexibility makes their setup easy. The sound system connected to a large display screen is HDMI ready for presentations from any laptop, whether it be about the train “Phoebe Snow” or the old Buck Hill Inn. “The FCC is welcoming,” says BTHS President Donna Bisset. “If one is new in town, it’s a great way to make friends and find out what this area has to offer. It supports and nourishes our community, and keeps us connected.”
Northeast PA Area Health Education Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the quality of health for people in our region. Their “Diabetes – Prevent T2” program, held at the Friendly Community Center, has helped people lose weight and control their diabetes. Some participants lowered their A1C. Some are no longer on insulin.
Weight Watchers has been losing weight - 500 pounds in 12 weeks for 15 participants! “I find that this is one of the best meetings of Weight Watchers I have ever attended,” says one member. “The support we give each other is beyond expectation.” That speaks volumes about the Center and the community it lives in.
“The Community Center welcomed us with open arms,” says a member of Alcoholics Anonymous with nearly forty years of sobriety. “When the church we were meeting in closed, there was a very real chance AA would no longer have a presence here in Barrett Township.” How many drivers are not driving drunk due to those meetings. This is an example of how the Community Center reaches far beyond its doors and into society.
The Friendly Community Center offers its building for lease, too, and is generally available Saturdays and Sundays for 3½ or 8 hours.
Linda Langdon rented the building for her daughter’s bridal shower. “Nicole was wonderful to work with,” says Linda. “The kitchen is large and a number of people can work in it at the same time. The two rooms were perfect and easy to decorate for the occasion. You basically had to bring decorations and food; the rest was there.”
“We rented the FCC for our daughter’s first birthday,” adds Dora Pereda. “Nicole was so helpful and insightful. It was a pleasure to rent, decorate, and celebrate in it.”
 A number of events are presented periodically at the Community Center, like line dancing; some require membership, some don’t.
Armchair Travel, free and open to the public, offers travelogues from all over the world, from national parks to South African safaris. “Not everyone can afford or is able to travel,” says series originator Jane Bartholomew. “Here they can journey vicariously, learning about foreign culture, society, and even foods.”  
If you really are travelling, French for Fun might be the thing. The class is for people who know some French, to pure beginners, and its goal is to have students learn basic French expressions.  “We have a lot of fun, so don't be afraid to come join us,” says instructor Yvonne LeBlanc. Last year, the class did a chocolate tasting in French.
A membership would be the best course if you’re ready to participate in what the Friendly Community Center has to offer. All the information you need, including facts on programs for seniors and their caregivers, is at www.thefriendlycommunitycenter.org/programsandevents/
You’ll be glad you subscribed to the newsletter for upcoming special events and reminders, too.
« Notre centre communautaire invite ses membres à se réunir pour continuera se développer et à se supporter les uns les autres, » dit Yvonne.
“Our community center invites its members to come together to continue to grow and to support each other,” says Yvonne.

Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity.