At 27, Heidi Holly already knew that the elder community “was her tribe.”
In the 35 years since, Heidi has steadily led the Friendship Center, which operates two adult day centers where seniors and those experiencing memory decline and other health related conditions spend their days engaged in “joy sparking” activities that enrich their golden years.
“Every day since I have been involved in this amazing purpose and work,” Heidi, the center’s executive director, says, “I have been able to hear all these jewels and pearls of wisdom from our older aging adults, our Veterans and Individuals with disabilities.”
The centers serve more than 800 seniors and their families each year.
That second part is incredibly important. Family caregivers and adult children caring for their loved ones often struggle to manage their careers and caretaking responsibilities. The result, too often, is that the only option for those older adults is to live out their days in a long-term care setting. By providing a place for older adults to go every day, their caretakers are afforded some respite, which keeps them at home.
“A success story is someone who stays in our program until their demise,” Heidi says. “Because we are cost effective and have enabled them to live a fuller life with their family.”
The center has two locations: one in Goleta and the other at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito. At both, clients interact through exercise and games centered on keeping their brains active. As Heidi says: “You are never too old to make new friends.” And this social interaction staves off the isolation so many elders feel, which negatively impacts their emotional and physical health.
“This is a happy place and a happy time and our seniors really thrive,” Heidi says. But they are not the only ones.
One day, Heidi was hurriedly walking through the Montecito Center’s courtyard thinking only about her multitudinous tasks as executive director. One of the clients, an elderly woman, stopped her and said: “You need to slow down in your life and be mindful of your surroundings and the present.”
The woman then told Heidi that it was her intention to spend the rest of her life dancing and singing.
“We need to slow down and recognize what the generation before us contributed,” Heidi says. “We have so many lessons to learn from them. That’s what keeps me motivated.”