ROCHESTER — As the new Older Persons’ Commission Governing Board chairman, Dr. Pierre Atallah already has an agenda set for the OPC, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Atallah, who has lived in Oakland Township for 33 years, was recently appointed to the OPC Governing Board as a senior representative from the township and was elected the board’s chairman soon after.
Last month, Atallah — who serves as chairman of the Rochester Medical Center and is a clinical professor of medicine for the School of Medicine at Wayne State University — conducted his first full meeting as board chairman.
“He was really gung-ho and did a great job,” OPC Executive Director Marye Miller said.
Atallah — who has also served as chair of the Site Plan Committee of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority for the past five years — publically introduced himself to more than 100 OPC members and staff during a special presentation Feb. 12.
During his speech, he discussed a few things that “inspire” and “motivate” him about the OPC.
The OPC has done a great job of preventing social isolation in local seniors over the years, according to Atallah.
“When we get older, we start suffering from social isolation — because the kids leave, they have to go work here or there. Friends are rare and they go around and they travel, and most ladies lose their husbands; they live an average of about 10-15 years longer than their husbands. So there are a lot of chances to be very lonely,” he said.
Thankfully, senior programs in Rochester date back to 1956, when a group of men formed a men’s card club that met at the American Legion Hall. In 1956, the Rochester Junior Women’s Club asked the council for a place where seniors could meet, and the council offered the Avon Park pavilion. In 1983, the Older Persons’ Commission purchased the old Woodward School building and built a facility at 650 Letica Dr., which opened in November of 2003.
Today, the OPC offers adult day services, home-delivered meals, a branch of the Rochester Public Library that caters to the interests of older residents, senior advocacy services, and nutrition and transportation services. The OPC also offers various activities for active seniors who want to be involved in health and wellness, leisure travel, performing arts and more.
“I think the OPC has really done, in my opinion — from what I know so far — a great job of stopping that social isolation,” Atallah said. “Many people have said that the OPC gives them a life — and not just any life: a good quality of life.”
The dedicated OPC staff, in cooperation with a large group of community volunteers, is a big part of why the OPC has been able to successfully grow over the years, he added. Approximately 2,000 people volunteer at the OPC each year, logging more than 42,000 hours.
“It’s incredible the generosity of the people to give themselves to help the community,” he said. “If we paid those folks at the minimum wage, look how much we are saving: $312,000 per year. … On behalf of the OPC, I have to tell all the volunteers, ‘Thank you. Keep up the good work.’”
Atallah said the OPC is one of the best senior centers in the world, and it is something that its member communities should be proud of and work hard to support and maintain.
“The OPC clearly is the heart of the community,” he said. “As chairman of the board, my promise is to try to continue that, and improve on that, so it can grow.”
One way Atallah plans to help the OPC reach its full potential is by adding a three-story, 92-space, parking deck, which he said OPC members have been requesting for “quite some time.”
“A few days ago, at the board, we passed the bid for the parking deck. It’s a huge plus for us. It’s going to give us close to 100 extra parking spaces,” he said.
The OPC has been working on the project for more than a year, Miller said, looking at ideas, going out for the architect bids, reviewing the 10 bids that came in, interviewing five firms and narrowing it down to French Associates, the firm that actually built the OPC building and also happened to be the low bidder.
“We’re not sure what the cost is, but we’ve projected that it may be $2 million. I already have over $1,200,000 in the fund balance that we are going to use towards the (deck), so we’re looking at $500,000, maybe $600,000, yet to raise. We’re not asking the taxpayers or the city or anybody else to put another millage on or anything like that. We’re going to raise the money ourselves privately — like we have with all the stuff that we have added on to OPC over the years,” she said. “We would like to raise it within the year, there’s no question about that. The quicker we can raise it, the faster we can get the (parking deck) up.”
Atallah hopes the deck will be operational within the year, if OPC members and volunteers can help secure the donations needed to move the project forward. The Rochester Planning Commission will consider the plan in the coming months.
“I’ll make sure, at the onset with the architects, that we build it very solidly, because I’m sure three stories isn’t going to be enough. At the rate we are growing, I think we are going to need a lot more.”
While Atallah admitted he has a lot more in store for the OPC over the next year, he said the next big thing is a special 30th anniversary celebration March 20. He said more details about the event will be announced in the coming weeks.
For more information about the OPC, visit www.opcseniorcenter.org or call (248) 656-1403.