Mary Laymon, 87, said she has been participating in senior activities and lunches at Project Focal Point, located in Milwaukee’s Borchert Field neighborhood, for “too long to remember.”
“I come because I like doing arts and crafts, crossword puzzles and I like mixing with people,” said Laymon, who lives in senior housing in Milwaukee’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and learned about Project Focal Point through her church, Metropolitan Baptist. “And,” she added, “I like the food. I get somebody to wait on me. I don’t have nobody to wait on me at home.”
It’s this “specialized, individualized attention” that makes Project Focal Point unique among senior centers, said Executive Director Vicki Boston, who served on the board and retired as the first African American postmaster of Racine before leading the organization.
“They get that personal touch that they wouldn’t get somewhere else,” she said, explaining that she goes out of her way to get small Mothers’ Day gifts for the seniors and to celebrate birthdays. “Some of them said they tried going to other places but they like this better,” she said.
Project Focal Point serves a smaller group of seniors – 45 are registered to participate – than the nearby Clinton Rose Senior Center and its programming takes place in one room.
“As a frail senior, a larger place can be frightening,” explained Boston.
“We meet the needs of people who wouldn’t feel comfortable at other centers,” said Board President Ruby Jackson, 65, who has volunteered with the organization for 40 years. Clinton Rose’s seniors are often “retired professionals,” she said, while Project Focal Point hosts “common people, a lot of hard-working people, not college-degreed people.”
The organization began as a youth center in the early 1970s and opened its doors to senior citizens in the mid-to-late ’70s, when the Milwaukee County Department on Aging sought it out as a senior dining site. It was started by the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin and three African American churches in Milwaukee: Calvary Baptist Church, Metropolitan Baptist Church and Mount Moriah Baptist Church. All still provide financial support.
“From my perspective, [we’re] here to provide the resources that the community needs to exist from day to day,” said Boston. “Sometimes people just want a comfortable, safe environment,” she said.
Although Project Focal Point is located in Milwaukee’s Borchert Field neighborhood, all seniors aged 60 and older are welcome to attend.
“Many of our seniors have been coming here for years and they don’t live in this area anymore,” said Boston.
Seniors are able to ride the Milwaukee County Transit System’s Transit Plus for free to get to and from the center, which hosts seniors from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Guest lectures are offered by representatives from Legal Action of Wisconsin’s SeniorLAW project, University of Wisconsin-Extension, American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, Social Development Commission and other organizations. The seniors also get help with filing for homestead credit, energy assistance and other benefits.
But it’s not all serious business. The seniors have had their hair done by Milwaukee Area Technical College cosmetology students, and take shopping and field trips. They’ve toured the Jelly Belly factory in Kenosha with Project Focal Point’s youth program. Most recently, their Transit Plus driver suggested a fishing trip to a senior-friendly destination he knew about an hour north of the city. They were gone from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., said Boston, who hopes to take them to the Fireside Dinner Theatre for their next trip.
Project Focal Point serves approximately 20 to 25 senior lunches per day, she said. The meals cost $6 to produce, and a suggested donation of $2.50 is asked of the seniors. The donation is anonymous and the program “is not driven by money,” Boston added.
Besides the nutritious meal, said Boston, “The whole goal of the congregant meal program is to provide seniors with a place that they can go to socialize, connect and find out information.”
Hattie Mattox, 74, a resident of the Granville neighborhood, calls bingo in the mornings, eats lunch and has met nice people, she said. She began coming to Project Focal Point three years ago “to keep from sitting around the house.”