Members of the Hilton Head Senior Center enjoy a morning sing-along session with the Hilton Head Jammers. photos COURTESY HILTON HEAD SENIOR CENTER

Cherie Bronsky has earned a reputation in our community as the ambassador for all things “active.” In her time as health and wellness director at Sun City Hilton Head, she was the human mascot of fostering an active lifestyle.

Younger folks who drove through the Sun City gates were in awe and inspired by the sheer volume of seniors living their best life and shedding the label that retirement equals a slowed-down existence.

Bronsky was hired by the Island Recreation Association to be director of the Hilton Head Senior Center in February. Since then, she has worked to instill the same vitality in the center that she brought to her work in Sun City.

One of her first steps was to freshen up the appearance of the center.

“It just needed a little nip and tuck, that’s all. It was a little worn, just needed a bit of a facelift to match the energy and excitement we’re looking to create here,” Bronsky said. She and her team set out to raise funds for some painting, a deep cleaning of the facility, new furniture and basic repairs to the center.

The end result is a revitalized look to a spot that is a haven for many and yet, an unknown amenity to many seniors in the Lowcountry.

“We had more than 400 members before COVID and many of those folks are still nervous to be in close quarters with others – and we understand that. For those folks, we wanted them to know we’re always looking to improve for when they’re ready to come back,” Bronsky said. “But there is a whole population out there that has never heard of us or never visited us, and for those folks, we wanted to put our best foot forward as we reintroduce ourselves.”

The last of the renovations were completed in mid-October, thanks to generous donations from business leaders and the helping hands of many volunteers.

“The Rotary Club was in here painting, and as we went for new furniture and decorations, so many consignment stores and furnishing stores gave us their best price and no delivery fees,” she said. “We had so many give to this project in their own way, it was just amazing to see it happening. The people here are so giving, and this is just the latest example.”

The Senior Center is in the same building as the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department at 70 Shelter Cove Lane. It’s centrally located on the island, and with the upgraded look and the declining COVID numbers in the county, Bronsky hopes the upgrade efforts will bring in both returnees and newcomers.

“I made over 250 calls in my first few months, just to hear why folks were staying away or what kind of activities they’d like to see that would bring them back,” she said. “And I heard every suggestion. The physical renovation is just the beginning of us evolving to better meet the community’s needs.”

Some of the changes have been subtle. The club’s weekly book review is now a Tea, Talk and Tales time with English tea and scones for guests who attend.

The center has also started a diner’s club, where the group goes together each month, via the center’s minibus, to a local restaurant.

“We’re trying to inch people back toward socializing and away from their TVs, and supporting local eateries at the same time,” she said.

The Hilton Head Jammers now come in every second Thursday of the month for a live jam singalong, following different themes of songs each visit.

Bronsky is also organizing walks to the park, trips to Pinckney Island and exercise classes to create active events for center members.

“Maybe we go shopping at Tanger, or go to a local play. The key is just to create those new opportunities to hit as many interests among our members as possible,” she said.

She has also begun to partner with the town to better accommodate Senior Center members during special events.

“Something like the Veterans Day ceremony, we use our minibus to bring a number of veterans who might not be able to get there for one reason or another. The town reserves some seating and honors Senior Center vets,” Bronsky said. “It’s little partnerships like this that can spark our residents to get more involved and to give even more much-earned respect to our seniors.”

Bronsky hopes that this time next year, the center will boast a membership far above its pre-COVID members.

“I love this population, I’m proud to serve them and to create opportunities for fun and excitement in their lives,” she said.

She hopes to have a grand re-opening celebration at the center in January, once the bulk of the center’s snowbird members return to the island. And, while she understands there will always be snowbirds, she hopes to attract more of the seniors who live here year-round.

“We want to be a full-year option for folks. I know many of them live in communities that have activities for them inside the gates,” she said. “I’m going to continue to research and listen to find those gaps and some new ideas to draw folks to come outside the gates and socialize with an even wider circle of friends. That’s just a win-win for us all.”

For more information on the Senior Center programs and event calendar, visit hiltonheadseniorcenter.org.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.