Although Jackie Joy could spend her days playing dominoes and enjoying a hot meal with her friends at the senior center, she has chosen to take on a bigger role — one that she’s trained for her entire life.
The 71-year-old Azle native has been the director of the Azle Senior Center for seven years, but she’s worked with seniors throughout her life in the healthcare field, assisted living, transportation and even in ministry.
Working with seniors brings Jackie a great amount of joy. Why?
“Probably because I am one,” she laughed. “I find seniors fascinating.”
And so she’s at the senior center five days a week, making sure the buildings are open and clean, scheduling entertainment and seeing to it that dozens of seniors get a hot nutritious meal five days a week.
“The adult activity center provides fun, food and fellowship for people 60 and older, but we do reach beyond that,” she said.
In fact, when Jackie first came to the center, it was to sign up as a member. Her husband, who is slightly younger, wasn’t yet 60. But spouses of those who are 60 also qualify for the meal program, as well as handicapped individuals who may be living with a qualified senior.
“The meals are good and they’re very nutritious,” she said, “and the people just really like them.”
The senior center itself is an arm of the city. In fact, the center is located in the B.J. Clark Community Center and City Annex buildings at 601 Southeast Parkway. The city’s parks and recreation department maintains the building. Meals On Wheels of Tarrant County is contracted to manage the center and deliver hot meals to the center, area shut-ins and also younger individuals who qualify due to their health and income. All of the meals are compliant to the Older American Act and arrive hot and pre-plated.
In addition to the dining area, the center features a large meeting room, where members can partake in exercise classes or Bible study. Live bands play every Monday. AARP offers a safe drivers class in this space every other month. An adjacent building on the property offers space for seniors to play bridge, dominoes — whatever strikes their fancy. A senior was practicing violin with an instructor in one room the day we explored the facility.
The center keeps Jackie busy, but she still finds time to serve the community in other ways. She and her husband recently graduated from the Azle Citizen Police Academy and joined their V.I.PS. program.
Jackie recalled a recent Fourth of July celebration when several kids became separated from their parents. Jackie was handing out glow sticks when two girls approached her looking for help.
“The littlest girl was just terrified,” said Jackie.
She used the skills she’d spent years honing as a children’s ministries director to comfort the girls until the parents were located.
Jackie, who still lives at the old homestead where she was raised by her parents, graduated from Azle High School in 1970. It was a few years after that when she visited her friend’s church and was so moved by the service that she became a Christian.
“It was a life-changing experience that led me to going to Bible college and getting into missions work, and I have been involved in some kind of ministry ever since,” she said. “Life has been an up and down road, but I’ve stayed with it. It’s been an awesome walk.”
It was at Southwestern Assembly of God University where she met the love of her life, Steve.
“When I met him, I looked at him and I thought he’s going to grow up to be a fine man of God someday. I remember it so clearly,” she said.
The two didn’t date but attended classes together, worked in the cafeteria, and were both in the missions club.
Steve graduated from college earlier and moved away. Jackie continued studying and, after graduation, she eventually moved to New Mexico to work in children’s ministries.
She saw in the alumni paper that he was in El Paso. It was just a short drive, so she visited.
“As soon as I walked into his office and saw him, he had changed physically so much, but when he smiled, I recognized those dimples,” she said smiling. “He has these gorgeous dimples! I knew right then God was going to do something. It scared me to death. I had gotten to a place in my life where I didn’t wanna get married.”
Still the two found themselves writing back and forth for the next year and a half. She recalled vividly her reaction to the first letter he signed with “love.” She says she spent a lot of time praying about the situation, and eventually made the decision to move to El Paso, where they could be closer. They dated another year and a half before marrying.
Jackie and her husband moved back to Azle in 2002, where she accepted a children’s ministry director position at First Assembly of God. She’s also worked in women’s ministries, youth ministries and senior ministries.
“Between my husband and I, we’ve covered it all—from the cradle to the grave.”
Jackie and her husband are now members of The Abbey Church in Fort Worth, where they are on the prayer team and assist with guest services, among other tasks.
Despite her strong faith, Jackie doesn’t push her beliefs on those at the senior center.
“But if they need prayer, they know where to come,” she said.
And her faith has often helped her reach those who couldn’t be otherwise reached.
Years ago, when she was working at an assisted living facility, a retired minister was admitted. He suffered from high blood pressure, yet he insisted on eating a full teaspoon of salt every day. Several staff members begged him to stop, but he would not. Finally, Jackie asked why he was eating the salt. He said a minister friend had also suffered from high blood pressure, and God told him to eat the salt. He was obedient…and was healed.
“Did God tell you to eat the salt?” she asked.
The answer was no.
“He quit eating the salt. He got so well, he got to go home,” said Jackie.
Even if Jackie isn’t called upon to work through a higher power, she has access to many resources to help seniors.
For instance, she can find assistance with installing wheelchair ramps and grab bars. She can connect seniors with a program that will help feed their pets. In-home visits by senior companions can also be arranged.
There are many resources available at senior centers throughout the area.