Aaron Lee Jr. leaves a legacy at the Hattie Palmer Staton Senior Center of Excellence in Scotland Neck.
From 2012-2019 as Chair Exercise Coach, Aaron conducted weekly chair exercise classes, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with approximately 10-15 seniors, beginning and ending each class with a prayer.
Due to COVID-19, the center closed in March 2020, and reopened on July 1, 2021. During that time, on Sept. 30, Aaron had passed away.
As a result, Center Director Hattie Staton sent out surveys asking for volunteers for that and other positions at the center. Aaron’s daughter, Dana Lee, who relocated from New York to be with her mom after her father’s passing, accepted the position of Chair Exercise Coach. On July 2, Dana continued the classes following her father’s pattern, with about the same number of participants.
She said her travels brought her to N.C. about three times per year during holidays or vacations. She signed up to volunteer to keep busy.
“And I like helping people — that’s my thing,” she said. “Before I came here, I worked in special education 14 years.”
For one, Dana worked at Creative LifeStyles Inc. in The Bronx, a nonprofit organization providing quality supports designed with the individuals, families and caregivers to enable the individuals to live, work and play in the community of their choice, regardless of the simplicity or complexity of their disabilities, according to the website.
Dana said sometimes coaching at the center is a challenge requiring patience.
“But this is my field and I like doing that kind of work,” she said. “It was offered to me and I was glad to take the challenge.”
And that is where she is following her dad, who also liked helping people, she said.
“It was not only the senior citizens, he worked with the younger children in baseball, basketball and football, and he liked doing positive things within his community,” Dana said. “Wherever he was he had a big impact on younger generations giving them good advice and leading them in the right direction.”
Dana shared a piece of her dad’s advice: “To everybody he said, ‘Be responsible, be respectful, don’t be judgmental and try to love everybody.’ He spoke of God a lot and his church and a lot about loving people. Just love everybody no matter the color or situation — we are all God’s children at the end of the day.”
Dana said she participated in Aaron’s class when visiting the center.
“I’m a young girl and a 91-year-old woman put me to shame, still by the grace of God waking her up every day,” Dana said. “I really enjoyed it.”
The seniors are happy to continue the class, and the center is very proud to have Dana join the volunteer team, Staton said.
“The class members told her they really love her and she is doing a good job,” she said. “She is doing a little more than him. I have people who weren’t going to chair exercise. I said, ‘You have to get out of that chair!’ The dining room is clear and they are back there in the class.”
Staton said the center is growing all the time with about 50 to come in and out.
“We try to grow every day of the month and to do something different every month to improve the center,” she said.
Through the center, Staton said she became very close to Aaron’s wife, Doris; they went to the center together.
“He had a lot of people in his class, and Aaron really loved every last one of them who came to the class,” Staton said.
He kept personal records of the seniors’ birthdays, anniversaries, hospitalizations and any occasion they encountered to submit cards for each occasion. His attendance sheet always had a scripture, words of encouragement and drawings of art.
“And the best part about it — when he wasn’t going to be here, he would have someone already in place to run that class that day,” Staton said. “He didn’t come to me and say, ‘I’m not going to be here.’ ”
The Hattie Palmer Staton Senior Center of Excellence is located at 1403 Church St. in Scotland Neck. For more information, call 252-826-3191. Chair Exercise Class takes place 10:30 to 11 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday.