Down to Business: Couple makes good on college vow to open a senior center

Pam and Mike Cooper started the Naperville Senior Center, a business they came up with in college and vowed to do when

Business: Naperville Senior Center

Address: 1504 N. Naper Blvd., Naperville

Phone/website: 630-857-3017,

Owners: Pam and Mike Cooper

Opened: February 2015

What does this business do? "We usually describe it as a place for people to come who aren't safe to be home alone, where we highlight dignity and purposefulness," co-owner Pam Cooper said. "The family members get to get part of their day back to do their job."

"What I like to say at networking events is our members vocalize, they verbalize, harmonize, evangelize, sometimes they close their eyes, but most important, they exercise and they socialize," co-owner Mike Cooper added. "We have games, a music corner, a small putting area, a quiet room, reading. We have about 4,200 square feet here."

What was the impetus for starting this business? "It's been Pam's and my dream since we met in Boston in college. She was doing physical therapy and I was a marketing major. We always said we'd do this when we had our kids and the kids went off to college," said Mike Cooper, who also owns Sales Kitchen, a sales counseling business.

What is the most popular thing you provide? "We have an indoor walking track. It's exclusive to our center, and it measures about 100 feet around. We measure the members, you know, how many laps around they take. It's nice to see them grow in endurance and get stronger."

Why should someone consider a place like this? "This is the perfect place for those family members that aren't ready for assisted living yet, but need that extra bit of care," Pam Cooper said. "Some come once a week, others come every day. We have about 21 members here every day, but would like to go up to about 30."

What is the thing you most like to do as part of your business? "Being with the members," Pam Cooper said. "We have walking history books. We have World War II vets, a Canadian mounted police man … (who) then did a full career in the States as a pilot. They have stories, fascinating stories."

What is your least favorite thing to do? Cleaning, both said.

What is the best thing about owning your own business? "Being able to dedicate all our time to our members. Not rushing around from one appointment to another. Giving them more personalized care," Pam Cooper said.

What is the biggest downside? "The hours. That's probably what every small business owner says," Pam Cooper said.

What is the biggest misconception about your business? "That it's pricy. But if we compare it to cost for home health care, there's no comparison. You are going to pay $22 to $25 an hour for a (certified nursing assistant) at home. So here you are getting an RA, a physical therapist, an occupational therapy assistant, a full meal, access to equipment, friends (for $10 to $15 an hour)," Pam Cooper said. "Some people think that we are just a drop-in center."

Who is your most memorable member? "This one lady, 93 years old, her son said he'd pledge $10 per lap for our (fundraising) event. And she made 44 laps," Mike Cooper said. "She was first place in the community for fundraising, and so happy to be able to do something for others at her age. Very special."

How would you describe your business philosophy? "That just because you are older or you need a little bit of help or you are forgetful, it does not mean you don't have more to offer," Pam Cooper said. "We had a member with almost end-stage repeatedly show one of our newer members how to work the Wii remote. How does someone with end-stage Alzheimer's have that patience? It's just amazing to see them rise to the occasion."

Do you have any future plans to expand? "Eventually. Maybe another location. Right next door there is 1,400 square feet, so maybe," Mike Cooper said.

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business? "Patience," Mike Cooper said. "If you've got a dream, go for it."

Daina Saleh is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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