IF YOU GO

What: Aztec Senior-Community Center Open House & concert by the Second Chance band

When: Aztec Senior-Community Center, 101 S. Park Ave., in Aztec

Where: 6-11 p.m., Saturday, September 14

More info: Call the Center at 505-334-7617

AZTEC — This Saturday, the community's house is throwing a party.

Celebrating improvements and innovations that promise a better experience for its guests, the Aztec Senior-Community Center is hosting an open house and concert.

"When I arrived here, there was furniture you wouldn't sit down on in your worst pair of jeans," said Center Director Cindy Iacovetto. "I thought, the people who come here deserve much, much better than this."

After Iacovetto's three years of running the center, changes are visible inside and out. Improvements include a new roof, picnic table, loading dock, air conditioning unit, garden area, sound system, fireplace lounge, 10-burner stove, walk in refrigerator-freezer and ice machine. Center visitors can sit on park benches, enjoy shade trees, and dine on new tables. The center now has fresh paint, televisions, wi-fi access, new furniture, an improved library and ADA compliant bathrooms.

And that's the short list.

Iacovetto's long-term goals include an emphasis on the center's relationship with the entire community, young and old.

Though it primarily serves meals -- as many as 150 each day -- and offers a panoply of free or low-cost programs for area seniors, the center is a community space available for all kinds of functions, events and uses, she said.

From left, Lena Galloway, Lois McCuller, Scott Jones and Helen Cheasebro talk at the Aztec Senior-Community Center before lunch on Thursday in Aztec.
From left, Lena Galloway, Lois McCuller, Scott Jones and Helen Cheasebro talk at the Aztec Senior-Community Center before lunch on Thursday in Aztec. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

Groups as diverse as belly dancers, jamming musicians, Weight Watchers dieters, quilters and sword duellers have used the center.

Its spacious main dining area has a stage that has provided a venue for musicians, UFO symposiums, martial arts displays and even a play Iacovetto wrote last year and acted in to raise money for the center.

With city support, four paid staff employees and more than 30 volunteers, the center opens each weekday at 7 a.m., providing opportunities for "laughter, love and life," something a volunteer said that Iacovetto considers the center's unofficial mission.

Florene Ensor, whose name tag reads "Volunteer Program Planner Coordinator," has volunteered at the center for more than 23 years. Ensor arrives at 6 a.m. to help open the center, brew coffee, deliver donated bakery items from Safeway, wipe down tables or "whatever Cindy needs."

"We just hang out and try to have a good time together, mop floors, help local schools with collected coupons, soda tops, soup can labels, whatever we can do."

Ensor has seen more than a dozen kitchen managers and center directors during her time, and thinks Iacovetto and cook Robert Rivas have set a new standard for quality and care.

"(Iacovetto) seems to get more out of the city, bring in more donations, dream up and realize so many improvements here," Ensor said Thursday when she helped clean up after a busy baked fish lunch Rivas prepared. "It takes a lot to run this place, but Cindy and Robert are the best we've ever had here. To most of (the directors) we've had, it was just a job, but she cares."

Donna Chadwick likes the exercise classes she attends three days each week.

"The teacher of the class really knows how to help people feel better," Chadwick said while visiting with friend and center regular Anne Cottrell. "But the center provides a sociability with good food and activities. You get up, dress up and show up."

Scott Jones started coming to the center three years ago when he was caring for his mother who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. But after she died last year, Jones, a Navy veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, continues to walk in the door at least two days each week for a midday meal, a game of pinochle or dominoes and to catch up with friends.

"They offer a lot here," Jones said. "It keeps me coming back and means a lot to me and a lot of the folks who come here. This is the community in a nutshell. It's always full of things to do, trips to the pool or the state fair, meals on wheels for people who can't make it in. People here care."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.