The nonprofit agency serving the largest population segment of Bartholomew County has launched its annual major donor campaign with a goal of at least $100,000 by Sept. 10.

Mill Race Center of Columbus serves primarily people 50 and older with a nearly $1.1 million budget that funds health and intellectual activities, social outings and many other programs. More than 75 of those programs are offered for free.

Paula Herlitz, the center’s resource development coordinator, recently helped kick off the drive with a dinner at the newly opened Upland Columbus Pump House, which had been used as the county’s senior citizens center until February 2011. About 85 people attended the event.

“It wasn’t really asking them (for money),” Herlitz said. “It really served as a thank you (for past support).”

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However, the asking is beginning now. About five in-home gatherings of about 20 to 25 people are planned, during which leaders will discuss Mill Race’s elaborate programming and other attractions such as its state-of-the-art fitness center with on-site exercise specialists from Columbus Regional Health.

This fund drive also encompasses promotion and support for the Pitman Institute for Aging Well, launched in May 2015 to focus partly on cutting-edge research and learning opportunities as a think tank. Last year’s fundraising effort for the center and the institute generated $300,000, Herlitz said.

About 40 percent of the center’s budget comes from donations, according to its leaders.

“The primary focus of this is to increase the number of our major donors,” Herlitz said. “But, at the same time, we don’t want to discourage the $5 or the $25 donor.”

The first $50,000 of the campaign will be matched dollar for dollar by anonymous local donors.

“Honestly, it gets a little harder each year to raise these (campaign) dollars,” Herlitz said. “That’s because there are so many local organizations that need assistance. We’re competing a little for all the donated dollars within the community.”

Columbus resident Bob Orben, who conceived the idea of the Pitman Institute for Aging Well, mentioned that Mill Race Center must continue its mission of attracting the newest 50-plus group “attracted to the dynamics of living well and embracing well being” via the center’s focus on the six dimensions of wellness: physical, vocational, spiritual, social, intellectual and emotional.

“Especially today, younger seniors want to remain active and they want their mind to be challenged,” Orben said. “We’re trying to development more activities attuned to their interest. But at the same time, we want to accommodate those who still find important the simple social attraction of just being with like-minded people and playing cards.”

Joan and Walter Able are among members of the center’s 900 Circle — those giving $900 or more annually.

Joan Able, who once worked for the center, remains as enthusiastic as ever about its mission and work to keep people 50-plus active and productive.

The Sept. 10 deadline for the campaign coincides with the center’s two-day Senior Expo event.

“It helps people stay functional and strong,” she said.

How you can help

You can give to the major donor campaign for Mill Race Center by calling 812-376-9241 or by visiting millracecenter.org or pitmaninstitute.org.

People also can submit donations by mail to the facility at 900 Lindsey St., Columbus IN 47201.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.