- February 13, 2023
Have you ever heard of an executive director so hands-on they teach Zumba to their clients? Suzy Brenner, does. And if you’ve met Brenner at Longboat Key's The Paradise Center, you've met, Lahni, a 10-year-old pitbull mix, too.
The Paradise Center serves as a hub on the island for exercise classes, medical and mental health care, education and socialization. Even though things slow down on the island in the summer, Brenner and Lahni spend a lot of time keeping busy to make sure Paradise Center clients have a place to gather and see each other — something easier to do when thousands more people arrive in town during the season.
Brenner, 54, keeps moving from sun-up to sundown. To see what a typical day looks like, Longboat Observer reporter Lesley Dwyer tagged along.
Brenner and Lahni walk from their nearby condominium to Bayfront Park. They pass up the dog park in favor of the waterside trail. Lahni, 10, gets tired and needs a lot of breaks. This particular morning, Brenner stocked her pockets full of treats to coax Lahni up off the grass quicker.
Lahni’s official title is CGO, chief greeting officer. She waits by the door because so many Zumba attendees give her treats and head rubs on the way in.
Brenner is a former gym owner and certified Zumba instructor. Some people questioned if a Zumba class would be popular at a senior center, but Brenner says Zumba is for all fitness levels and was sure the fit, youthful seniors on Longboat Key could keep up.
Brenner leads a mat Pilates class. Pilates is a low-impact exercise unlikely to cause injuries. It’s especially beneficial as people age because it focuses on strength, balance and flexibility. Lahni likes it because it provides a mid-morning cuddle and nap.
For people who didn’t grow up with phones in their pockets, iPhones should come with instructions. Brenner's goal is to see seniors living their best lives. These days, that includes getting the most out of your iPhone, so she started a class that goes over the settings menu and offers tips on photo storage and how to open and close applications.
The Paradise Center is a nonprofit, so Brenner spends a lot of her time on the phone with donors and sponsors. With so many competing nonprofits in the area, most of which have lower-income clients, she also writes a lot of grant applications.
Lahni is refusing to move off the grass. Brenner paddle boards regularly, and Lahni gives her “the look” every time because she gets left behind.
Brenner gets tailed by a manatee on her stand-up paddle board. After their last brutal winter in Washington, D.C., she and Lahni appreciate the warm weather. “I remember pulling ice from her paw pads and thinking, ‘What are we doing here?’”
When the work day ends, Brenner likes to enjoy the local restaurants. Cindy Schatzle helped Brenner find her condominium. Their mutual love for dogs bonded them as friends forever.