Thursday, May 23, 2024

Whitefish Community Center a gathering place for all

| May 8, 2024 1:00 AM

What was once a senior center is now the Whitefish Community Center and it is buzzing with activities for all ages. Tara Liard, executive director of the center and a self-described “huge advocate for community,” has been on the job for about a month and is excited about offering more programs.

The building, located at 121 East Second Street near the river, was a senior center until a couple years ago when it changed its name to the Whitefish Community Center and began offering a wider variety of activities. Laird said the building has evolved into a gathering place.

“Right now we have Tai Chi – that and Whitefish Together have brought in a lot of diversity,” said Liard. “Whitefish Together is a mom group where people bring in their toddlers to just engage and hang out as moms and have that interaction with their kids.”

In addition to Whitefish Together, the center will soon offer Spanish for Toddlers, taught by former Whitefish High School Spanish teacher Luna Hardwicke. The class is geared towards 3- to 4-year-old children with their parents.

The center offers a yoga class that is open to all ages and abilities, like the Tai Chi class, which is taught by Andy Hamer, master instructor and owner of The Sawbuck Do Jang.

Most programs are still geared toward seniors, like Senior Fitness on Tuesdays and Pinochle/Cribbage, which is open to all levels of play. Seniors are also invited to meet for a midday meal every weekday. 

Laird said over 100 people attended a recent presentation at the center by a man who spoke about his ski expedition to Antarctica. 

“The heart behind the center is recognizing how significant connections are in the community and how it's become almost a luxury to have those kinds of connections,” Liard said. “There’s almost a social charge, a currency to it.”

She said the question is how to keep social activities a standard part of life rather than a luxury.

“[The center] offers opportunities to cater to a community that we don’t want to forget,” she said. “That’s why we hosted a membership lunch today, as a way to say we see you and we want to celebrate you.” 

Membership to the Whitefish Community Center costs $25 for the first year and $10 each year thereafter. All of the center’s programs, presentations and fitness classes are free to members. 

Other perks include a monthly book club, bingo, and coffee, tea and treats from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.     every weekday. Currently, the center has about 400 members.                            

LAIRD GREW up in Southern California and knew at a young age that she wanted to help people when she grew up. She admits to being “a little bit of a rascal” in high school, so was introduced to nonprofit work through community service. 

“Then I fell in love with it,” she said. “My first program was at a ranch for an equestrian center where we did rehab exercises for children with special needs and being able to see that transformation and the impact that came from that…”

She worked with different nonprofit organizations, both internationally and domestically for ten years, including volunteer work in Papua, New Guinea and in Haiti.

“Nonprofit has made a significant impact in my life. I like to make use of the time I have in this life to do something that I believe in – helping people and having an impact which I think the center has potential [to do],” she said. “I’m here to push the potential.”

She is expanding the possibilities of the center by developing programs with a wide range of people in mind, thus making it an appealing place for all ages. She said there are “lots of fun things in store” for the coming year and that her biggest goal, currently, is to “make more noise” about the center and how it is an affordable gathering place.

“I think community is a huge priority here and I see that through my interactions daily and how people engage with one another,” Liard said. “I think centers like this are what is going to keep that alive.”

    The Whitefish Community Center, located at 121 East Second Street, offers programs for a wide range of ages. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)
    Andy Hamer instructs the Tai Chi class at the Whitefish Community Center. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)
    Group of parents and babies sitting on floor at Whitefish Together Group at Whitefish Community Center. Left to Right. Samara Marney, Annabelle Marney, Sara Mork, Jack Taylor, Sophia Saucier and Jennifer Saucier. (Kristen Fortier photo)