Sylwia Bujak Oliver and 125 LIVE connect the socially isolated and enrich lives of all ages
By Erin Pagel
125 LIVE is more than a community center. It’s more than a fitness facility. Take just a few steps inside its doors, and it is clear that 125 Live is a whole lot more than expected. 125 Live (and its vibrant executive director) is a hidden gem of Rochester and a facility that offers something for everyone.
WHAT IS 125 LIVE?
At its heart, 125 Live is a nonprofit community center for active adults living in and around Rochester. The center targets much of its programming to those over age 50, but 125 Live is much more than a senior center. It’s a community gathering and recreational space made up of a gorgeous, light-filled 60,000-square-foot facility and around 150 volunteers and 50 staff, all catering to the needs and desires of its members. “125 Live is a catalyst for people to make friends and connections with people you otherwise wouldn’t have,” says Operations Director Ken Baerg. “It is a vibrant, healthy and active community,” says Executive Director Sylwia (pronounced “Sylvia”) Bujak Oliver.
Located on Elton Hills Drive near downtown Rochester, 125 Live is a multi-generational facility that prides itself on listening to its members. Amazing volunteers and staff, numerous and varied program offerings and a beautiful building keep 125 Live members happy. “Once people come, they stay,” says Bujak Oliver. The club boasts a phenomenally high member retention rate of 94%. “Our members love it here,” Bujak Oliver says. “We’d like to give them everything they ask for; we’re creating a community within 125 Live.” The facility offers both fitness and social activities for over 2,600 members ages 18 to 112. You read that right: ages 18 to 112. Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials and Post-Millennials—125 Live serves us all. “We’ve got a reputation of only being a senior center, but we are so much more than that,” says Bujak Oliver.
125 Live is not like a typical community center. Says Bujak Oliver, “There’s no judgment. We’re welcoming.” 125 Live is neither exclusive nor expensive. Membership fees are on a sliding scale, and over half of the members pay nothing at all due to the facility’s participation with insurance programs that incentivize people to be fit, active and healthy. “There’s free parking, and the bus stops hourly at the doors,” says Bujak Oliver, making the facility very accessible.
As an adult community center catering to those over 50, 125 Live has all of the activities one may expect: quilting group, scrapbooking and cardio and fitness classes, among others. One may not expect, however, to find two pools within the 125 Live facility (one kept at a toasty 90 degrees and the second a 50-meter competition size). Hearing loops are placed in the floor to make it easier for people using assistive hearing devices to hear and join conversations. Bujak Oliver and the 125 Live staff can also boast about their more than 80 weekly fitness classes, including cardio drumming, pickleball and self-defense. Would you expect an opportunity to box with retired heavyweight boxer and mixed martial artist Raphael Butler at 125 Live? Get your gloves on because he teaches weekly classes at the facility.
Also nestled within the facility is a 1,600-square-foot woodworking studio stocked with enough tools to make any woodworker salivate. 125 Live has four 8-foot and two 7-foot billiards tables and 10 potter’s wheels. The facility offers children’s art classes and camps and a surprisingly large computer center. Art installations can be found throughout the two-story space and feature varied artistic offerings by local artists in fashion, painting and photography. Topping off the list of amenities are on-site massage, Reiki and hairstyling.
A PARTNERSHIP TO HELP THE SOCIALLY ISOLATED
Part of 125 Live’s mission is to provide opportunities for all adults to embark on their journey to aging successfully. One risk of aging is social isolation and loneliness which can have direct and negative effects on health. To combat social isolation and loneliness, 125 Live, in partnership with Olmsted Medical Center (OMC) and Family Service Rochester reaches out, welcomes and connects isolated adults to 125 Live and its community.
To find community members who are socially isolated or lonely, Family Service Rochester and OMC connect with individuals who may have limited human interactions and encourage discussion and interaction with others, referring them to 125 Live. OMC and Family Service Rochester discuss 125 Live program opportunities and provide free passes to the facility.
This opportunity for isolated adults to connect with someone in a real and personal way has been incredibly helpful. Bujak Oliver recalls one person who called and was very upset, to the point of tears. She shared how lonely she was. The staff at 125 Live provided a kind ear and the opportunity for her to share her story. Bujak Oliver was quickly able to connect her with a group of members that were glad to take her under their wings and provide a personal, real and ongoing connection. “She was over the moon,” recalls Bujak Oliver. These types of interactions can have a profound impact on the health and well-being of an individual who may feel isolated or lonely.
A PASSIONATE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
One characteristic of an active and successful executive director is a true love for the work, the mission and the people. Sylwia Bujak Oliver shows her love for the 125 Live community every time she steps in the door of the facility. Her passion is evident as she breezes through the building, barely holding her excitement in check and chatting with everyone she sees along the way. Her excitement overflows as she walks the building, pointing out the wonderful offerings and beaming with pride.
Bujak Oliver started with 125 Live the day it opened its doors in late 2016. Originally from Poland, Bujak Oliver studied law and humanistic studies at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland. She has moved 48 times, arriving in Rochester in 2012. Lucky for us she doesn’t plan to leave. In addition to her executive director role, Bujak Oliver is a mother and is certified in fitness instruction and personal training. She teaches a weekly cardioboxing class at 125 Live and also serves as a substitute instructor, filling in where needed. Bujak Oliver does all of this because she loves the members at 125 Live and fully supports the mission. She would like nothing more than for the community to grow and prosper further.
“My work colleagues and the members are the best part of my job,” says Bujak Oliver. “My ultimate favorite thing to do is workplace wellness. We work out as a team. We burn some steam off, channel bad energy into something good for the body and the mind. My leadership team wants to live as we all preach—age wisely and well.” She offers a bit of advice for women, “Do what you like and you will never work a day in your life. I would encourage any woman to try to find things that bring joy and just do it! Happiness lies in the attitude and small details. We, women, need to learn to look after ourselves because no one else will.”
The partnership with Olmsted Medical Center and Family Service Rochester has been a successful way to reach out to those who may be lonely or needing companionship and to offer community involvement. If you know someone who could benefit, listening to their story and providing a connection opportunity is a great way to help an isolated adult. Connecting them with the staff at 125 Live is an excellent next step.
Erin Pagel is a freelance writer living in Rochester.