AUBURN — Jan Biron, a retired 33-year employee of the Auburn Recreation Department, never really left the workforce.

Biron, 66, worked as the office’s administrative assistant for three decades, followed by part-time work as a senior coordinator. She’s still an official driver for monthly senior trips and through volunteer time, has become a de facto leader of the Auburn Senior Community Center. 

Biron and a number of other Auburn residents, with the help of a new city committee, have helped cultivate more support and excitement around the senior center. 

“Baby boomers are now full-fledged senior citizens,” she said recently. “We have to develop something for these people to do. They cannot sit at home and do nothing, they’ve got to be involved.” 

The senior community center is next to the Auburn Recreation Department and Hasty Community Center on Pettengill Park Road. The space used by seniors used to be a city garage, and the group plans to expand into the adjacent bay. 

Biron said they have unlimited ideas for the expansion. Think giant bingo events, community and holiday meals, and more weekly activities.

She said most of the ideas come from the growing number of seniors who are taking advantage of the site, and the social benefits. They play cribbage and cards and do arts and crafts, among other activities. 

“Whatever they want to do, we do,” Biron said.

In 2018, Mayor Jason Levesque created an ad hoc Age-Friendly Community Committee to assist the work of making Auburn more friendly to the aging population. 

Auburn is also an AARP-certified age-friendly community, which Biron said allows the senior program to qualify for AARP grants. Biron said they plan to use their first one to install charging stations for electric wheelchairs at a few Auburn locations. 

As the center has become the home of the Age-Friendly Community Committee, it has also opened up the community center to people of all ages. Biron said people bring their entire families to events. This past Thanksgiving, the center hosted a holiday meal. 

If not used for senior events, they’d also like to open it up to the rest of the community to host birthday parties and other events. 

The senior center keeps a monthly schedule, where many of its members also utilize the Hasty Community Center next door, which hosts pickleball. 

The recent interest and momentum for senior activities in Auburn will likely get a boost in funding in the coming months, as city officials plan to use a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant toward renovations at the senior center. 

The next step for the group is adding a kitchen, which Biron said will make it much easier to host meals. At the most recent Thanksgiving meal, the group mostly brought food into the center. Soon they’ll be able to cook it on site. She said they already have the hood system, stove and dishwasher for the kitchen, but need them installed. 

“I think any money that would be allocated now would primarily go into that kitchen,” she said. 

City Manager Peter Crichton said Friday that the funds were originally earmarked for other items but ultimately not spent. However, if the federal money is not used by April 30, it may have to be returned to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

He said the $300,000 could be used to complete the senior center renovation, and the project fits in with the eligibility requirements from HUD. 

The CDBG funding came from projects such as the city’s STAR business loan program, and building rehabilitation program. Crichton said due to a staff vacancy in community development, some of the projects were “slowed down.” 

More CDBG funds, about $138,000, was planned for the Auburn PAL Center site on Chestnut Street, but Crichton said it was delayed by the council. 

“We’re trying to put them to good use now,” he said of the funds.

Biron said that if the expansion moves forward, they will most likely have to expand the heating system and possibly the entrances. 

Ward 5 City Councilor Leroy Walker called the senior center “a very important project for everyone” in the city, and it deserves more attention.

“Having a place for all to be able to communicate and work together is a goal,” he said in an email. 

At-Large Councilor Belinda Gerry has also been heavily involved in the senior center project. The two councilors are also co-chairmen of the Age-Friendly Community Committee. 

Biron said they’re still trying to get the word out to as many people as possible. They want to host film screenings or even weekly cornhole tournaments. 

In the meantime, Biron is adding to her volunteer roles. Soon she’ll begin volunteering for the AARP Tax-Aide program, which offers free tax preparation for seniors at Sacred Heart Church, at Minot and Western avenues in Auburn. 

As for the senior center, she said, “It’s quite a process, but we’re enjoying it.”

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“Whatever they want to do, we do,” Jan Biron said about listening to the suggestions of Auburn’s seniors. Biron is a volunteer at the Auburn Senior Community Center. (Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover)