Sharon Laws, who has helped make the Ashland Senior Center a welcoming place, is retiring from her job there after 17 years.

As the director of the City of Ashland's senior program, Laws organizes activities at the center and helps match seniors up with the services they need.

Her last day at work is June 30.

"It's good to leave while I'm still very happy with the job," she said. "Not very many people have that kind of blessing where they love what they do and can leave it without counting the days."

Laws, 69, said she plans to take the summer off and then look for new pursuits.

Senior Program outreach worker Chris Dodson will take over as the program's director. The city will hire someone to fill Dodson's position. The three staffers at the center, including the director, work part time.

Even after her retirement, Laws said she will likely still volunteer for Food and Friends, the senior center's cornerstone program.

Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., seniors enjoy comfort foods like roast turkey and spaghetti served with whole-grain breads and rolls, fruits, vegetables and tempting desserts that range from rhubarb crisp to molasses cookies.

"It's very important because a lot of people don't cook for themselves," Laws said. "It's not that much fun to cook for one person."

For people age 60 and over, the suggested donation for the meal is $2.75. The cost for those under age 60 is $6.75.

In addition to lunches, the senior center at 1699 Homes Ave. is home to activities almost every weekday morning and afternoon.

Laws said Ashland's intelligent and engaged seniors have never been big fans of bingo, a staple at many other senior centers.

But yoga and tai chi classes are very popular. The center also has line dancing, card games, a knitting group, computer instruction, once-monthly birthday celebrations for everyone born that month, discussion groups on local to global issues, insurance assistance and health clinics.

Movies play every Friday at 12:30 p.m., with popcorn provided. The center will screen the 1948 film "The Lady from Shanghai," starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, on Friday, June 29.

Although the senior center is a place for fun and friendship, it also helps residents deal with the more difficult aspects of aging.

"Some people don't have another support system like a church or fraternal organization. Their children may not live in the area and they are not working, so they don't have co-workers," Laws said. "Sometimes they just need to talk over a decision with someone, like is it time to move out of this big house? Is it time to stop driving?"

She said the senior center helps people of all income levels with services like referrals for in-home help or care for illnesses like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The one service the senior program offers that is income-based is the senior utility discount. Staffers at the senior center verify the incomes of people who apply for the city of Ashland's utility bill assistance program. The discount is for low-income residents age 65 or older, and for disabled people age 60 or older.

Dorothy Parsons, information and referral specialist for the senior program, said Laws always makes time to help people who come to the center.

"She's never in a hurry if people have problems.

She'll talk and talk. She's just very caring. She likes to get to the depth of a problem so she can help solve it," Parsons said.

Launched in 1973 after an Ashland City Council candidate noticed suffering seniors during his door-to-door election campaign, the Ashland Senior Program has helped seniors have a better quality of life, Laws said.

She said she has been able to assist seniors who were making a choice among heating their homes, buying food or paying for medicine. Even seniors with good incomes sometimes need help.

"Dollars don't always mean that people's needs are met. A little steering can make sure they're happy, secure and their needs are met," Laws said.

Regardless of a person's income, needs or interests, Laws said she wants the center to be a place that all seniors can enjoy.

"I've always wanted to make people feel good about coming here and to feel welcome," she said.

For more information on the Ashland Senior Program, call 488-5342 or TTY: 800-735-2900, or visit /seniornews.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.