Dillon helps transform Ela senior center
Susan Dillon is the director of the Ela Township Community Center. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2012 9:08AM
LAKE ZURICH — Susan Dillon doesn’t work the traditional nine-to-five.
She’s an errand-runner, a carpool chauffeur and someone always willing to lend an ear.
Dillon’s official title, however, is director of adult and senior services for Ela Township’s “55 Plus” program.
And though she prefers to continually be on the move, she knows when to pause and appreciate life moments – like singing happy birthday to a gentleman in his late 70s who frequents the Lake Zurich-based senior center.
Dillon explained that her genuine fondness for the people she serves is derived from her belief that we each have a unique story, no matter our age. The 55 Plus participants are no different, she said.
“It’s so fun to be in those conversations and hear a history of where they come from,” Dillon said.
Dillon stepped into the leadership role of the township’s senior center about 18 months ago after having worked for years with a population on the complete other side of the age spectrum: kids.
She learned of 55 Plus when the program was housed in the same building as the Foglia YMCA, where she had worked as the director of children and family services.
After volunteering with the senior center for a year, in which she taught digital photography, Dillon was approached by the retiring director, who told her she would be a fantastic replacement.
“It was one of the best moves I ever made,” she said.
Since her arrival, 55 Plus has relocated to the Ela Township Community Center, at 380 Surryse Road in Lake Zurich.
Dillon said the new space has resulted in greater visibility and awareness of the center’s classes and events, which she has made her personal mission to expand upon to involve a greater number of older adults.
Dillon broke the traditional model of catering to seniors during mornings and afternoons by scheduling activities on weeknights and weekends. It’s a strategy that allows working seniors and independent Baby Boomers the chance to enjoy 55 Plus, too.
Yoga classes are held after 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. In July, the center threw a luau party on a Friday night to appeal to a wider range of people.
An afternoon “Sit and Be Fit” class typically attracts 45 participants, Dillon added. A series of financial literary workshops this summer aimed to educate and help residents who may be struggling to make ends meet.
In mid-August, the senior center bussed a group of folks down to the Chicago Air and Water Show to cruise on the Spirit of Chicago.
“This is not my grandma’s senior center,” Dillon said. “These are not our grandmas.”
Since February, the 55 Plus program added 98 new memberships, or about 160 new people, to its database, she reported.
The increase in participants is due in part to Dillon’s efforts to spread the word and let older adults know the center is at their disposal, be it for educational, recreational or social purposes.
She wants seniors to stay active and be happy, just as her grandmother had been in her later years. Dillon’s grandma danced twice a week, went on trips and was an active participant in her senior center.
“That’s the kind of senior I want to be,” Dillon said.