Senior centers have a bad rap and they should not. Although there may still be too many that offer little more than bingo night once or twice a week and not much else, most are working hard to upgrade and update for the latest elder generations.
(You know those boomers – they don't want to be part of what “old people” do.)
Snark or not, boomers really should get over themselves. Some won't go to senior centers because they don't like that name – it makes them sound old, you know.
Although I often lobby against the word senior myself, a name is a shallow reason to give for not participating and when people start using euphemisms that are just too politically correct to take seriously, the only thing you can do is groan and move on. It is almost always a committee that causes such language effrontery.
The senior center in my town is called – ahem, the Adult Community Center, usually shortened to ACC.
This is one of the better centers in the U.S. On any given day, the variety of fitness and well-being classes from aerobics to Zumba along with yoga, tai chi, strength training, meditation and more are filled to capacity.
There is a small gym with four machines, hand weights and balance balls. In a room nearby, there is a masseuse available one day a week that members can book in advance.
There are also a large number of gaming groups who meet almost daily – bridge, Scrabble, mah jongg, among them. There is a knitting group and a quilting group who donate the results of their work to local charities.
All activities are either free with an inexpensive membership or low cost.
Each Wednesday afternoon, I attend a two-hour current affairs discussion group at the center that is organized by a group affiliated with a local college. Membership is just $30 a year and if I were inclined or had more time, there are additional groups within relatively easy driving distance I could attend almost every day of the week at no additional cost.
The center also has a professional kitchen with a chef who oversees the town's Meals on Wheels preparation - nutritious food delivered by ACC volunteers to more than a hundred elders who cannot cook for themselves. The kitchen staff also serves lunch at the center three days a week for a fee of just $4 per person.
In my rounds for volunteer work, I've had some unspeakably awful institutional meals at senior centers but never at the ACC. They get a good amount of their fresh vegetables from a nearby community garden, the food is prepared from scratch, nothing frozen and reheated, and the chef is excellent.
In additional, there are reasonably priced day trips to restaurants, theaters, local historical sites, museums, etc., and there is a “solo” dinner club for singles, among many other choices.
As varied as the social choices are, the services are crucial to the well-being and health of elders in the community. Without the center, these services would not be available or certainly not all in one place where they are easy to find, easy to use and mostly free. There are so many that I will list just a sampling:
Blood pressure monitoring
Foot care clinics
Rides to doctor appointments
Rides for grocery shopping
Medical equipment loans
Caregiver respite groups
Widow support groups
When I needed rides to and from the medical center for my two cataract surgeries a couple of years ago, I used the ACC ride service and it went off without a hitch.
In fact, the driver told me that she had taken time to do a dry run the day before to check the traffic so I wouldn't be late, and the service was free. (I made a substantial donation to the Center.)
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), there are about 11,400 senior centers in the United States that serve more than a million elders every day.
The NCOA also runs the National Senior Center Accreditation Program that recognizes centers that meet nine national standards of operation. The ACC is one of about 250 centers who have achieved these standards.
The reason I'm telling you all this today is that I want some information from you. Three or four years ago, I wrote a post here titled Are You a Senior Center Snob? admitting to having been one myself. So did some of you.
At first, senior centers are like the word “retirement.” In the beginning I choked on it but with repetition as I wrote about it here, I got over my aversion. That happens similarly with senior centers when you've spent some time checking out what's there.
Maybe it is a gradual transition; maybe it comes in two or three steps. First accept that you are old, move on to tentative outreach to some elder activities and pretty soon, you've made an interesting friend or two and forget you once thought senior centers were boring.
A well-funded senior center like the ACC that also attracts a good number of volunteers (usually elders themselves) offers a wide variety of social activities and community services, something to interest most everybody in the ones that are as good mine.
Now, here's what I would like to know from you:
Do you regularly spend time at a senior center? If so, what activities and services do you like or use? What additional or different activities, services, events and programs would you like to have?
If you don't use a senior center, what would prompt you to do so? What kind of activities, services, events and programs would entice you to try it?
And one more thing. If you are reading this in another country, are there equivalent organizations where you live? Tell us about them.