Reflecting on more than 13 years at the helm of the Shippensburg Senior Center (now Branch Creek Place), Anne Marie Brandes said she will miss the friendships she has forged in her role the most.
Brandes became the director of the senior center in August of 2005, at a time when membership was down and the future of the center was questionable.
“It was hard,” she said of the start. “They were without a director, and I was hired to determine if the center would last because there was low attendance. I was there to see if there was a potential for growth.”
As Brandes worked with the seniors, she realized this was her calling.
“I fell in love with the community and the seniors themselves,” she said last month. “It became my passion to help support them and the community.”
Since she took the helm, the center has been moved to several different locations, and has come full circle to return to its original location. The current North Fayette Street site, the former Shippensburg Community Center, closed in 2005, forcing the senior center to find a new home. In 2006, it was housed in the Cleversburg Community Center and in 2013, was again moved to Christ United Methodist Church. A slow process brought the seniors back to their original home, with a fresh look and many upgrades.
“It has definitely been a journey,” she said. “We have been through several locations, each one bigger and better than the last, and we've been through several sponsors. Now we are back where we started, and it looks totally different!”
Brandes said, while this was a tough decision for her to make, she is leaving the center in the best place it could be. Now sponsored by Menno Haven, the center will soon be available for community members to rent for various occasions. Another new fundraiser for the seniors is the fun Saturday night Grand Jamboree at Branch Creek Place. Musicians and community members come together to sing and perform, while enjoying refreshments and fellowship each Saturday night.
“There are so many things that I've been proud of,” Brandes said of her tenure. “The fact that the seniors have been with me through this whole building renovation, the rental agreement and now the Grand Jamboree, is amazing. The senior center is really coming out on top.”
Her assistant, Liz Robinson, said Brandes was instrumental in finding the center a place to move each time they had to relocate.
“It was hard and she stuck with it,” Robinson said. “It's only by her loyalty to the seniors that we ended up back here. She is a wonderful person. She lives her life for God, and it shows in her day-to-day dealings with the seniors. I was here when they hired Anne. We started working together and became friends. She will definitely be missed.”
Branch Creek Place member George Shank said Brandes will be hard to replace.
“I think I will miss her spirit the most,” he said. “She did her best to see that nobody ate alone, especially the newbies. She has one of those personalities that just gets everybody energized. You've heard of an A-type personality; she's an A-plus! I think that's what they need in her replacement.”
Menno Haven is currently in the process of hiring a replacement for Brandes, whose last day was Nov. 2. Tiffany Rife of Menno Haven
said, “Anne Marie was with the center for over 13 years. Our relationship began late in 2017 as Menno Haven prepared to assume sponsorship of Branch Creek Place beginning January of 2018. At that time, Anne Marie became a team member of Menno Haven and continued her role as director of the center, but had expressed some excitement about pursuing a degree and beginning a new chapter. Anne Marie continued to show off Branch Creek Place as one of the leading Senior Centers in Cumberland County as she has paved the way for an ongoing legacy to continue to grow.”
Rife is currently taking the helm of Branch Creek Place as a replacement is being recruited.
“Over the past couple of weeks, myself and the members have been interviewing for a new full-time director, as well as a part-time assistant. The members have been given a set of standards and qualities to look for as we conduct the interviews. We also have been using a list of questions the members can scan over and really think about which ones they want to ask the candidates based on what their own personal interests and priorities may be. At the end of each interview, the members use a rating sheet to score the candidate in a variety of areas. We currently have offers out for both positions and are just waiting for confirmations to be received. This is such a new and exciting time at Branch Creek Place as we embrace new leaders and forge ahead with making BCP the place to be for those over the age of 50 to come and engage.”
Brandes said the most challenging part of her role as director is convincing individuals ages 50 and older that they aren't too old or too young to come to the senior center. “Age is a hard thing to accept sometimes,” she said. “Some might still work during the day, or take care of their grandchildren, so I understand that it's hard for them to come to the center.”
She noted Branch Creek has a plethora of activities and classes to keep members engaged, whether it's just meeting once a week to play cards, trying your hand at some Wii Bowling, or keeping active with a number of exercise programs, there is something for everyone. The center holds a number of pot-luck meals each year, and plans different day trips for area seniors.
“Partnering with the seniors in the community has been a blessing in my life and in the growth of my career,” she added. “I will definitely miss all of the friends I have made over the years. I have developed relationships with so many people and each one has impacted me in one way or another. There aren't many jobs you can say that about. I am truly leaving it in a much better place than when I came.”
“It's hard to say goodbye to a family,” she said. “So I don't say goodbye; I say, I'll see you around! Family is forever, and this is my family. I am thankful for all of the friendships I've made over the years and the support from the seniors and the community. I wish continued success for the new director and the center, and I wish everybody the best!”