“Suddenly, I became aware of a whole new segment of society, and that these older people were struggling with some heavy burdens on their hearts. Why couldn’t I be a catalyst to provide community to those people in Sarasota?”

Brother William Geenen, C.S.C.
Friendship Centers Founder

Friendship Centers History

Founded as the Senior Friendship Centers in 1973 by Brother William Geenen, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross (C.S.C.), to help older adults in Southwest Florida live with dignity and independence, SFC quickly led the way in developing innovative, cost-effective solutions to the challenges of aging. A belief in People Helping People focusing on volunteerism has shaped the organization since inception, creating a national model for the delivery of services to older adults.

Within short order, a network of senior centers begin to bring people together to enjoy a meal and activities. Meals were delivered to the homebound. Programs were added to help older adults live independently. Adult day services provided a safe and caring place for older adults allowing their caregivers to work or have a little free time. Healthcare for low-income seniors was addressed by clinics staffed by volunteer physicians, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, aides and other health professionals; these clinics became a national model for the delivery of healthcare.

In 1991, the Senior Friendship Centers began to develop the infrastructure to support its rapid growth. The SFC Foundation and endowment funds were established. Technology increased efficiency in reporting and operations. Education and wellness programs emphasized active and healthy aging. Friendship at Home, helping seniors at risk and Falls Prevention programs were added; and volunteerism was emphasized.

In 2009, a comprehensive approach to sustainable programming was implemented, along with a brand refresh, new logo, updated mission and website. Caregiver Resource Centers were added. Greater local competition for philanthropic dollars and increasing governmental funding limitations necessitated more efficient business models, including enhanced community partnerships to improve services and share costs. Fundraising efforts involved more grant writing and increased donor cultivation and stewardship to meet the need.

Today, the Friendship Centers is at the forefront in developing innovative approaches to serve older adults and to help them discover a new way to age. While programs and services vary, what began in Sarasota County four decades ago now benefits tens of thousands of older adults residing in five counties: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Lee and Sarasota.

Friendship Centers Timeline

Sept. 1, 1973

First Senior Friendship Center (SFC) opens in Sarasota in a small bungalow house to an overflow crowd


SFC becomes a Florida non-profit corporation


First Elder Nutrition Dining Site opens at Sarasota Mobile Home Park, expanding to other sites over the next few years, including Newtown and Riverview High


First Venice Nutrition Dining Sites open


SFC purchases its own building at 1538 State Street in Sarasota

SFC successfully lobbies for sovereign immunity coverage for retired volunteer physicians

SFC opens a clinic to serve low-income older adults in partnership with the Department of Health


Services expand to Lee County with facility in North Fort Myers

Health service in Sarasota moves to 1561 State Street


SFC expands into client care management

SFC opens a community care center on Carson St. in Fort Myers

Adult day program in Sarasota is launched


Home delivered meal program begins in Sarasota


Health Service opens in Fort Myers

Adult day program opens in Venice at 2137 S. Tamiami Trail


Brother William Geenen Living Room, now adult day service at The Caregiving Place, is dedicated at 1820 Alderman Street (later renamed Brother Geenen Way), first building on new Luke Wood Park campus in downtown Sarasota

Services expand to North Port


Adult Day Service program opens in Lee County (Lehigh Acres)


Health Services opens in downtown Naples


The Friendship Center (activities center) in Sarasota is dedicated on May 8 on Luke Wood Park campus


Elder nutrition program expands to DeSoto County


Senior Friendship Centers campus in Venice, 2350 Scenic Drive, is dedicated


SFC Foundation becomes a Florida nonprofit corporation


Senior Friendship Center opens site at Sarasota-Bradenton Airport


Dining program and senior center activities open at Newtown Community Center, Sarasota

City of Sarasota renames the SFC section of Alderman Street “Brother Geenen Way”


Pat Buster Dental Clinic opens on Venice campus


SFC Lee County adds Elder Nutrition Program and expands dining program to 10 dining sites


SFC expands into Charlotte County

Lee County establishes R.E.L.I.F. program for caregivers of frail homebound elders


Friendship Center assumes responsibility for the VolunteerLee program in Lee County

Groundbreaking takes place for the health clinic in Sarasota at the east end of Luke Park campus


SFC completes free standing clinic on its Sarasota campus to serve low-income older adults


SFC in Sarasota and Venice are among the first Florida senior centers to earn national accreditation through the National Council on Aging


Dr. & Mrs. Louis Rubin provide naming funds and the Rubin Center for Healthy Aging is dedicated in Sarasota


SFC Center for Healthy Aging awarded inaugural Sapphire Award by Blue Foundation

SFC partners with Sarasota County Government to open a clinic in North Port to serve south Sarasota County


SFC receives the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation


SFC becomes Sarasota sponsor of the national Elderhostel program (now Road Scholar) and establishes school of lifelong learning

SFC begins the Friendship at Home Program in Charlotte County


First Caregiver Resource Centers open in Sarasota and Venice


Senior Friendship Centers expands to six counties with the opening of the Manatee RSVP program (SFC’s 4th RSVP Program – also in Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee Counties)

Organizational rebranding, new logo, new website


Senior Friendship Centers in Sarasota & Venice earn National Senior Center re-Accreditation through National Council on Aging

SFC launches Compeer Suncoast, a volunteer supported mental health program in Sarasota County

SFC is featured in Ted Fishman’s book Shock of Gray, about the aging of the world’s population


Korean National Television Network visits SFC Sarasota to film documentary on aging

Innovative nutrition program meal re-design receives statewide acclaim

Health clinic in Collier County receives Human Services Award from Jewish Foundation


RSVP Sarasota and Manatee merge with headquarters in Sarasota

Friendship Health Clinic Collier medical volunteers honored with Diamond Award


Senior Friendship Centers hosts National Economic Security Summit


Board of directors approves name change to the Friendship Centers (FC)

FC co-hosts the first Positive Aging Symposium in Charlotte County

DeSoto office moves to a new location in downtown Arcadia, a hub for healthy meals, recreation and educational activities, including dedicated resource center

FC Sarasota County launches Economic Security Program in partnership with the National Council on Aging


FC selected by the National Council on Aging to partner with Verizon and Columbia University on a Digital Aging Mastery Program®, and one of only three sites to launch Aging Mastery Program

Collier County health clinic changes name to Senior Friendship Health Center and forms partnership with the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, opening a collaborative site at Stanford Court in Naples

FC launches Center for Aging Studies

FC partners with United Healthcare’s Moment Health to launch a Mindfulness in the Workplace initiative (expanded to include family caregivers in 2016)

Florida’s Public Service Commission recognizes Lee County’s Friendship Centers as a PSC Helping Hand for helping raise public awareness about the Lifeline Assistance telephone discount program, energy and water conservation, and utility impersonation scams

Case managers transition to advanced technology, using tablets to help older adults live independently in their homes for as long as possible


Major technology upgrades take place system-wide thanks to grants from the William and Marie Selby Foundation and Gulfcoast Community Foundation (includes new phone system)

Erin McLeod assumes role as president and CEO of the Friendship Centers from the retiring Bob Carter

R.J. Carter Staff Development Endowment Fund is established to support staff training and job enrichment

The Health Clinics begin move to electronic medical records (completed 2017)

FC Sarasota introduces My Journey, a new initiative that allows participants to record and preserve their story for future generations


In Sarasota County, FC launches Phase One of a multi-year initiative to promote and expand caregiver services (adult day service and caregiver support), rebranding the services under the umbrella of The Caregiving Place

The Friendship Centers outfits its activity center in Sarasota with specially-ordered matching café tables and chairs and sturdy easy chairs and coffee tables, courtesy of a grant from the Harry Sudakoff Foundation

Brother William Geenen, C.S.C.

Brother William GeenenIn 1973 Brother William Geenen’s vision of a network of services to help older adults live with dignity and respect formed the foundation for Senior Friendship Centers. Today, that dream is a reality thanks to the support of caring people working together to make make The Friendship Centers a reality. His legacy lives on through the Brother William Geenen Fund of The Friendship Centers’ Foundation.

Sarasota Herald Tribune journalist Kathy Silverberg of The Friendship Centers’ Board of Governors, reflects on what was accomplished as a result of his leadership, to improve the quality of life for many thousands of older adults in her editorial: Brother Geenen’s Gift to the Community Keeps on Giving.