Rebecca Jernigan is pictured outside The Heritage Center with her dog, Jake. Jernigan is the new executive director of the center. (Contributed photo)

Senior citizens and other guests will be seeing a new friendly face at The Heritage Center. Rebecca Jernigan has taken over the Executive Director position and has some new and exciting plans for the upcoming months.

Jernigan said her experience so far has been a bit crazy but fun.

“While my professional experience working with seniors is minimal, I have personally served as a primary full-time caregiver to members of my family,” said Jernigan. “I simply provide a fresh set of eyes and a passion for acknowledging and addressing issues that all seniors face in their everyday lives. I want to provide a retreat, a source of social interaction, and assistance for those seniors who may or may not have a voice. The Heritage Center and our staff serve as catalysts for seniors to continue to embrace the continued independence and consistency that they so need and desire. I have been given a big set of boots to fill, and I hope to be able to recognize areas that could be rejuvenated and/or restored, especially in the wake of this pandemic. I would not necessarily consider this a “change,” rather it is a matter of safely and effectively restoring the vitality and vibrancy of the center that has been ‘put to rest,’ so to speak, in the past year.”

Jernigan relocated to Seadrift two years ago from Liberty Hill. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor of Science degree in business management with a focus on environmental science.

“Within the first couple of months of my accepting the position, we have had some excitement, especially with the freeze in February. My crisis response skills have certainly been put to the test,” she said. “I have been so thankful to our Board of Directors as well as my staff who have assisted me in getting in the groove of things and have been here to advise and assist when I have needed them. I have and am learning a lot, and I am confident that the future is bright with opportunity and growth. I have met so many amazing members of the community, and I love spending time visiting and listening to the amazing stories and just chatting and getting to know one another.”

The Heritage Center is in the process of gearing back up for business. The center is operating at 100 percent capacity with all safety measures in place. The center has been able to maintain food service, although somewhat restricted, to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.

“We continue to offer our daily congregate meal from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, to anyone 60 years of age or older. The meals are all home-cooked here in our commercial kitchen. The meal is free, while we do suggest a $5 donation if possible. These funds go directly into providing a balanced meal to those who may not otherwise have one. We are currently serving about 500 meals a month here at the center.”

The Heritage Center continues to be the sole provider of Meals on Wheels in Calhoun County, delivering well over 1200 meals to disabled and shut-ins in the area who may not get a hot meal otherwise.

“Our volunteers make this happen, and they are the reason we are able to provide for those in need,” she said. “We are constantly looking for Meals on Wheels delivery drivers. All it takes is a couple of hours, at least one day a week. Our drivers are more than just a means of getting food to those in need. They serve as a point of contact to recipients who may not have any contact with anyone else. They serve as a kind of ‘wellness check’ and do go through a series of training to learn signs to watch for and how to react when necessary. Many of our volunteers have been driving for years, a few as long as 25 years.”

The RTransit program provides transportation to any citizen in the community to appointments, grocery shopping, etc., and also travel out of the area. The program has assisted in getting people as far as Houston and Austin to get the care they require.

Activities at the center are open to any senior citizen age 60 or older. Some scheduled activities are as follows:

- BINGO is scheduled every Monday and Wednesday, as well as the second and fourth Thursday of the month.

- The Bridge Club is up and running.

- Dominoes are at 8 a.m. Monday through Thursday.

- Game Day is the last Thursday of each month. This is a group that gathers to play board games, Skip-Bo, cards, dominoes, etc.

“Within the next couple of weeks, we will have the craft room open. We are in the process of reorganizing our supplies to better assess where we are at and what we have,” said Jernigan. “In the past, this group met the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, which is what we intend to continue. I believe it would be safe to say this will kick off no later than April 14.”

Jernigan is also planning for chair exercises, a puzzle club, live music, and more and is open to suggestions and feedback.

“Please feel free to share ideas for activities folks would like to see at the center. We do have a field trip planned for April 24. We are going to the Seadrift Market Days,” she said. “We have the capability to take 21 people via our RTransit. Anyone interested in attending please call and sign-up. We will leave the center at 8 a.m., returning at noon.”

The Heritage Center is a non-profit organization, which depends on donations, grants, and other outside sources of funding to keep the doors open and keep as many activities free of charge or for a small fee.

“If anyone is interested in volunteering, simply come to the center during business hours, and we can get you going,” she said. “Additionally, if you have an area of expertise that would possibly benefit the center, I would love to talk to you. Whether you are a quilter, a baker, an electrician, or a plumber, I love to use my resources when I have them.”

The Center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.