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In late 2003, a group of Fall River residents made the drive to save the old Seneca Foods building from sale to another large corporation. More than 15 years later, the building has become the center of community events in the Fall River area.

On Saturday, Nov. 16, Savanna Oaks Community Center will celebrate 15 years with a birthday bash. The open house runs from 6:30-9 p.m. The event will feature complimentary wine and craft beer tasting, along with free Miller Lite on tap. Snacks will be available, along with a cash bar.

Director Annette Waterworth said everyone is welcome to mix and mingle with neighbors and meet new friends. After all, the center has brought people together for 15 years and plans to continue well into the future.

“We’re tying it in with our decorate and donate holiday tree and wreath auctions,” Waterworth said. “We have nine different area businesses that have donated their artistic abilities. We gave them table-top trees and they’ve decorated them and they’ll be auctioned-off that night.”

A silent auction will also be held from Nov. 16-Sunday, Nov. 24, part of the center’s annual holiday fair. Potential bidders can view photos of the trees and wreaths on the Savanna Oaks Facebook page.

Waterworth, director for Savanna Oaks for 11 years, said holiday auctions are important fundraisers to keep the center going. Savanna Oaks is a 501c3 non-profit business governed by a board of directors.

“Back in 2003, Seneca Foods wanted to sell the building and a group of concerned citizens got together and really wanted to see it used for something that would benefit the community,” Waterworth said. “They saw the beautiful grounds here and that we have a good location.”

In December 2003, local resident Gary Errthum sparked the fundraising effort, donating $1,000 toward purchasing the building. However, with the building and land valued at $150,000, much more needed to be raised. In 2004, the community started a fund-raising program for the “Savanna Oaks Cultural Center” to buy the building and land, along with installing a small café, kitchen and outdoor deck.

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“There has always been a mortgage on the building,” Waterworth said. “Savanna Oaks is a community center for everyone, it’s not owned by an individual, group or business. Everything we do here, we have a huge mortgage we took on to do all these improvements to have a beautiful facility for area communities to use.”

After the center was leased to the community, the building needed renovations. Waterworth said local businesses donated time, labor and materials for building improvements.

The center hosts several community events throughout the year, but Waterworth wants to see more. She said Savanna Oaks is great for weddings, group parties and other catered celebrations.

“That’s how we make money here to pay our bills and mortgage,” Waterworth said.

In the future, Waterworth hopes to offer space to local schools and churches for no rental fee. She also plans to have more rental opportunities for non-profit organizations.

She encourages residents unfamiliar with the center to attend the anniversary bash.

“That’s why it’s an open house, we want people to check out the building and see what we have to offer,” Waterworth said. “We really promote it as ‘your’ community center.”

Follow Kevin Damask on Twitter @kdamask or contact him at 608-963-7323.

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