Back in February, when Sally Gallagher announced her resignation as executive director of 125 Live — formerly the Rochester Senior Center — there was a sense that while Gallagher had done a great job during her 29 years at that post, change was needed.
The Post Bulletin’s editorial board summarized the situation this way in March: “If 125 Live plans to build a more robust relationship with the community, it needs to communicate and be as direct and transparent as possible. Going forward, there’s no doubt the organization faces major challenges. ... 125 Live’s first year exposed operational, financial and mission issues that will take an extraordinary leader to navigate, and more input from the city.”
We stand by those words. Rochester is deeply invested in the new, $26 million facility that replaced the senior center’s former home in the Armory building downtown, and 125 Live’s success will hinge on its ability to serve a wider cross section of the community while maintaining good programming for its core clientele, which is people 60 and older.
Change, however, is difficult. Some seniors who loved the old Senior Center haven’t made the transition to 125 Live. We’ve heard complaints about higher fees and rumors about a decline in membership.
Well, the facts tell a different story.
It turns out that under Gallagher’s leadership, the transition to 125 Live was far more successful than anyone (with the likely exception of Gallagher herself) could have imagined.
On Nov. 1, 2016, as operations shut down at the old Senior Center, the membership list included 510 people.
As of last Saturday, that list had ballooned to 1,879 members at 125 Live. By our reckoning, that’s growth of 268 percent in less than two years.
Chad Allen, the director of community engagement and membership at 125 Live, said that growth rate shows no sign of slowing down.
“We accrue nearly 100 new members a month — sometimes more, sometimes less,” he said. “Our activities are filling up, and we’re filling the building, so much so that we’re looking at expanding our fitness space on the lower level.”
While Allen admitted that some former members didn’t make the shift to 125 Live, he said cost really wasn’t the issue.
“Financially, it’s actually cheaper to belong here than at the former location,” he said. “Downtown, people had to pay for parking, and they don’t here. They also had to pay fees for a lot of the individual things they did down there. When you put it all down on paper and compare apples to apples, it’s actually cheaper to belong here, and you get so much more here. You get a lot more for your money.”
Reading between the lines of that statement, we conclude that 125 Live now operates along the lines of a hybrid health club/social organization. For seniors who join and take full advantage of its full range of classes, programs and fitness activities, 125 Live can be a real bargain — but less so for those who are just occasional visitors.
As for whether 125 Live is serving a broader range of the community, Allen said that the typical people walking through the door are in their 60s or 70s, but people in their 40s and 50s are becoming more and more common.
“The younger people start out as one-time users, and what generally happens is they come in having not really known we existed until very recently,” he said. “After a tour, they’re hooked. With our social programming, they can’t believe that they can take our classes at such good rates. We don’t charge a whole lot because we’re all about building a community.”
Gallagher’s vision was for a community that brings a wider range of people together for the benefit of all, and Allen said that vision is being realized.
“We’re not trying to get 18-year-olds in here and turn this into a youth campus, but studies have proven that people age healthier in a more diverse crowd,” he said. “We’re all aging, and if you can get people who are 40 into a class with people who are 60 and 70, everyone does better.”
Since Gallagher announced her resignation, Sylwia Bujak Oliver has been serving as operations manager — essentially an interim leader — but she’s now been named to replace Gallagher as executive director. She previously had served as membership services director at 125 Live.
We applaud Oliver’s selection.
While there are times when an organization should look outside its own walls for a new leader in order to gain a fresh outlook and new, outside-the-box ideas, this wasn’t one of those times.
Gallagher and 125 Live’s board of directors have put this organization on a great trajectory, and we like the fact that Oliver will have an insider’s familiarity as she works to keep that momentum going.