The Gathering Place proves a great place to gather

by | Dec 4, 2023

Nackawic-Millville setting an example with thriving drop-in centre

One year after opening its doors, Nackawic-Millville’s “The Gathering Place” has lived up to its name and vision.

Friday, Dec. 1, marked the first anniversary of the opening of the drop-in centre located in the Nackawic Mall. Like most days in the past, visitors filled it with friendship, kindness, smiles and conversation.

For Julie Stone, co-chair of Nackawic’s Age-Friendly Committee, The Gathering Place’s success is gratifying but not shocking.

Stone explained she shared her vision with fellow committee members while they spent five years ensuring the greater Nackawic community met the stringent criteria required by the province, Canada, the United Nations and the World Health Organization to earn the official age-friendly designation.

“It feels really good,” Stone said, noting the excellent community effort involved in making The Gathering Place a reality.

She still marvels at the widespread support the idea received.

“Everybody helped once we got going,” Stone said. “It was amazing.”

Those volunteer efforts continue a year later.

“There’s nothing we talk about that needs doing when somebody doesn’t jump up as says ‘I can do it,'” Stone said.

Nackawic resident Joyce Barr, who just moved to the Big Axe Community the day the centre opened, understands its importance.

“It was a great place to meet people,” she said.

Barr said she drops by almost daily when not busy or travelling somewhere.

While the idea of The Gathering Place came together relatively quickly, it wasn’t easy.

Stone said the first challenge was finding the right place, noting the focus on seniors dictated getting an accessible spot without stairs. As happened from the beginning, she said, local business owners stepped forward to help.

She said J-Lynn Jensen and John Almeda, the new owners of Your Independent Grocer supermarket in the Nackawic Mall, heard about the planned drop-in centre. Knowing there was a vacant storefront near them in the mall, they told Stone they would approach the mall owners to arrange a good deal on its rental.

Stone said the spot, in the centre of Nackawic, proved ideal. She added that the supermarket owners continue to support The Gathering Place, arranging for an employee to open the door each morning and turn on the coffee makers and other devices for the day.

Stone said the entire community and beyond stepped forward to help prepare the centre.

She noted outreach nurses from UNB played a huge role.

“They scrubbed, scoured and painted with volunteers,” she said.

Stone noted that part of The Gathering Place’s success is its informal operation.

While it operates under the auspices of the Nackawic and Area Wellness Committee, the drop-in centre is exactly what the name suggests: a place to gather and socialize with friends and neighbours.

Users don’t need to be members or pay registration fees. Stone said the centre asks only that guests sign in so they can keep a record of how many use it.

Using the sign-in book, Stone calculated that 100 residents, 70 women and 30 men, visit The Gathering Spot regularly.

She said visitors come from all Nackawic-Millville wards.

Even before the amalgamation of Nackawic and surrounding local service districts in January of 2023, all the communities worked together to secure the Age-Friendly designation. In addition to Nackawic, the committee included representatives from Millville, Southampton, Temperance Vale, Pokiok and Dumfries.

She explained that donations from users, residents, and businesses cover the rental and utilities, while the wellness committee helps secure grants to purchase appliances, furniture, and other equipment. She added that some equipment came courtesy of business donations.

While the centre offers a few semi-regular activities, Stone explained that visitors primarily use The Gathering Space to socialize. Guests are welcome to sit at the piano to play a tune, play cards, play board games, or complete jigsaw puzzles.

They have a fully equipped kitchen for tea, coffee or snacks.

Nackawic-Millville Mayor Tim Fox dropped by the centre on Friday to help celebrate its first anniversary and help cut the cake.

“This is a critical piece of infrastructure for our community,” Fox told the River Valley Sun. “It’s a model for other communities.”

He said that representatives from numerous communities across New Brunswick to study The Gathering Place’s success.

Fox said the foundation of The Gathering Place’s success is people working together for a common cause.

“We’re so lucky in this community to have so many people willing to volunteer.

Tobique-Mactaquac MP Richard Bragdon, whose constituency office neighbours the Nackawic Mall, dropped in to help celebrate the anniversary.

He echoed the mayor’s comments about Nackawic-Millville’s residents’ sense of community.

Bragdon, who grew up and went to school in Nackawic, had a special hug for Stone, his first-grade teacher.

“This is such a great place,” said the MP, referring to both The Gathering Place and the community.

Nackawic-Millville Mayor Tim Fox helps Julie Stone cut the cake during The Gathering Place’s first-anniversary celebration on Friday, Dec. 1. (Submitted photo)
Aline Elslinger, left, and Joyce Barr work on a jigsaw puzzle. (Jim Dumville photo)
Julie Stone, left, and Joyce Barr make coffee in The Gathering Place’s fully equipped kitchen. (Jim Dumville photo)

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