WOODBRIDGE — Come next year, Woodbridge Township will have four senior centers, which has become a community effort.
Mayor John E. McCormac, members of the Township Council, members of the Woodbridge Township Department of Health and Human Services, and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin celebrated the grand opening of the Five Branches Senior Center at 1 Brown Ave. in the Iselin section of Woodbridge on July 20.
The township already has the Evergreen Center in the Colonia section of town, and the Sycamore Senior Center in the Port Reading section, and will have the Hickory Center in the Fords section sometime next year.
Five Branches stands as a gateway connecting the township’s senior residents 60 years of age and older by providing vital community services that help seniors remain healthy, active and independent, according to information provided by the township.
The senior center includes a large community room, activity rooms, a game room, a computer learning center with free WiFi, and a café area with a kitchen.
Township officials wanted to maintain a tree theme as well as have a military connotation since the township bought the building from a military organization, the American Legion. McCormac said township Clerk John Mitch thought of Five Branches — trees have branches and the military has five branches with the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Liz Longenhagen, who will be the coordinator at the center, said they will be the host to a number of activities, from fitness classes to Scrabble games to a monthly party with a hot buffet and deejay.
“I really want this place to be part of the community,” she said, adding she is open to suggestions.
During the grand opening, McCormac presented a proclamation to Longenhagen for the new space. He said it was a prime location with the Woodbridge Hills Apartments, a 55-plus community, in the area.
McCormac said two years ago, Gene Bernhardt, former commander for American Legion T. Nulty Post 471 in Iselin, came to the township after having difficulty with declining membership and the cost of the building.
“When Gene came to us, we talked and we talked to see how we could do something with the Legion,” McCormac said. “Our goal was always to have multiple senior centers. We got the Evergreen Center [in Colonia], which pre-dates anybody else here for many, many years; Sycamore [in Port Reading]; now [Five Branches] becomes our third; and next year we will open up the Hickory Center in Fords in the Fords First Aid Squad [building].”
American Legion Post Commander Ramon Orriss said the building was too much for the post to take care of.
“When the mayor and our post got together with Gene it was just something we couldn’t quite believe, sitting down with the architects and engineers,” he said. “It’s just one of these things, a win-win for our town and for our post. A lot of people thought our post was going away, but we’re here and active.”
Council President Debbie Meehan said the American Legion Post will always have a special place in her heart.
“I’m always doing things with the post with the veterans,” she said. “They are such fabulous people and they do so much. I’m glad they will have their place and share it with the seniors.”
McCormac said the other senior centers were an outcome of similar circumstances.
“It’s the same way the Port Reading Knights of Columbus came to us many years before that. We bought their building, they kept the upstairs for a bar and meeting room and we turned the downstairs into the Sycamore Senior Center,” he said. “When the Hopelawn VFW [Post 1352] was having trouble they came to us. We gave them a room in what became Dalina Manor so they could maintain their operation and we turned it into a beautiful senior housing building.”
For the senior center in Fords, when the squad was in trouble, members came to the township and sold the building, McCormac said.
“Four separate senior centers, which I think you [seniors] deserve,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful place [Five Branches] and it is absolutely beautiful.”
Senior residents are encouraged to register for free as a member of the Five Branches Senior Center.
The Five Branches Senior Center is from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. For more information, call 732-726-6276.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.