Learning is a lifelong adventure. Hollin Hall Senior Center is a living monument to that.
For almost 34 years the building at 1500 Shenandoah Road, now housing the Center, was a neighborhood school where minds, encased in young bodies, were introduced to the true Fountain of Youth known as intellectual curiosity. It still functions the same way. It's just that the encasements have matured.
Last Saturday afternoon nearly 200 of those now utilizing the facility gathered in the party room to celebrate the Center’s 20th Anniversary. They represented only a small portion of 1,600 registrants who make Hollin Hall Senior Center the largest in Fairfax County.
Hollin Hall School classes began in the fall of 1949 as part of a national response to the post-World War II baby boom. By 1981, the baby boom was over, and the Mount Vernon community population had matured. The school was closed.
On Jan. 31, 1983, the building surged back to life as the Hollin Hall Senior Center, with 35 seniors using three rooms. Today, that daily population averages 180, with diverse activities in 17 rooms.
"I first came here six years ago and got very active two years ago. I'm on the Military History study group, and it's fascinating. We are very lucky to have this Center," said Roy Barnard.
That Military History study group is composed of those with a wide range of experiences not only in the military but also in various areas of government that have dealt firsthand with America's involvement in conflicts from World War II up to the present. "When we visit schools, the kids can't seem to get enough of what really happened and why," Barnard said.
"When I visited my son in Missouri, right after I started coming here, he asked me what I was doing in my retirement," Barnard related. "I told him I was very busy volunteering and active in the senior center. He asked me what I was doing with all those slobbering old people in wheelchairs? I told him, 'Not at this center.' It's all about activity. He's not acquainted with centers like this out there."
That "unusual" status is also recognized right here. Dorothy Keenan, supervisor, Senior Services, Fairfax County Department of Community and Recreation Services, noted, "This is the largest of our 13 senior centers in the county, and they do a wonderful job here."
IF SHE SEEMED a little partial, maybe it was because she was the director at Hollin Hall 12 years ago. In her remarks Keenan noted, "This facility has doubled in the last 12 years, and that's attributable to the people who come here and our great staff, now headed by Julie Ellis.
"This is truly a community-based facility. Every program is run by volunteers. There are 130 of them, and many contribute multiple hours to a wide range of programs and activities."
Within four years of its opening, the Center had outgrown the original space due to expanded programs. For 11 months in 1987-88, it moved to temporary quarters on Elkin Street while the old school building was converted for its new mission: "To provide citizens of Fairfax County, 55 years of age and older, opportunities for recreation, participation, life and leisure skill development and community involvement."
Today that mission is a living, breathing, reality, according to Ellis, the present director. "Those 55 and older represent one quarter of the total population today. And that number is growing constantly. Twenty years ago this Center was just a vision. That vision became a reality."
Ellis added, "This is where history buffs gather, quilters gather, bridge players gather, and it is the home of the Mount Vernon Genealogy Society, as well as our fearless exercise classes and instructors. Each person adds up to create this special place.
"Opportunities are endless here. The possibilities are limited only by our own imaginations. It's great to work here. Who wouldn't be happy in a place where everybody is having so much fun?"
JOINING IN THE celebration were Gerald W. Hyland (D), Mount Vernon District supervisor; Katherine K. Hanley (D), chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors; and Isis Castro, Mount Vernon District representative, Fairfax County School Board and its recently elected chair.
"The founders of this Center were particularly visionary to be able to see what this facility could become," Hyland said. "And the people in this room are very important to elected officials. You are the most significant voting group in the country because you vote."
He emphasized, "We could not be the county we are without the volunteer efforts of our senior citizens. Let me, on behalf of everyone in Mount Vernon, congratulate you on what you have accomplished here."
Hanley then presented a certificate of appreciation from the county to Gwendolyn Yance, vice president, Hollin Hall Senior Center Advisory Council, "In recognition of the Center's anniversary and its many accomplishments over the past 20 years."
Castro thanked those in attendance "for all you do to help our children — mentoring in reading and math and a host of other activities. Coming from Cuba, I know how precious freedom is, and you have contributed so much to making this great nation and keeping it free." Castro has also taught Spanish at the Center as a volunteer.
The festivities were initiated by a Hollin Hall cheer led by Carla Convery, the Center's official cheerleader and leader of its exercise class. Ellis then read letters from Anthony DiFerdinando, president, Advisory Council, who could not be present, and U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8th).
Ellis was recognized by the Council with a tribute and large bouquet of red roses. The anniversary event concluded with music by the Hollin Hall Chorus under the direction of John Huang, with accompaniment by Elena Malgin and Shelia Epstein on piano. They and the audience joined to sing "We Are Family."
A record of the day, with various memorabilia, will be placed in a time capsule to be opened in 2008 at the 25th anniversary celebration.