If your image of a senior center conjures up a group of “old people” snoozing around the Bingo table, just take a peek at your local facility. You may be pleasantly surprised.
EXPLORE PROGRAMS BEYOND A CENTER
Laurie Schaefer chuckles a bit at the stereotype. “They think they’re too young. But once I can get them to walk through the door, they change their minds,” says the Rocky River Senior Center program coordinator.
Cards and crafts are still staples of senior centers, but look around. There’s yoga, circuit training, speed dating, theater groups, distance learning and maybe even Elvis himself.
“We’ve expanded our fitness program to include more adventure and more intensity,” says Jill Frankel, director of the Solon Senior Center, who refers to participants there as “senagers” — combining senior and teenager to reflect the energy and interest of clients.
The center’s programming such as Pickleball, barre and circuit training define a more active lifestyle. “We were one of the first with (Nintendo) Wii. We try to define new opportunities and offer them,” she adds.
A NEW STYLE CENTER
One of the first things a visitor notices about the Westlake Community Services Center is the absence of the word “senior” on its sign. Activities director Jennifer Yoo explains that senior services are rolled into other community programs.
As ladies in their finest hats attend a program about the fashions of “Downton Abbey,” she and co-director Jodi Rodriguez review a plethora of offerings that include a speed dating-styled mixer. “We were shocked at the response,” Yoo says. They plan to add more sessions because the first was so popular.
Frankel and her staff also have discussed rebranding and removing the “senior” word. “But we want people to know this is where they go to remain independent in the community.”
That independence is encouraged at senior centers such as Rocky River’s. Director Deb Huff said the facility is working on being the first in Cuyahoga County and one of only four in the state to be accredited. Carol McCabe, who volunteered to work on the process, was named volunteer of the year. “Accreditation has been energizing and invigorating for me,” she says.
Volunteer opportunities are important, but the most resounding theme for senior centers is friendship. Joleen L. Arthur-Schiller travels from New Orleans to teach a watercolor class at the Westlake Community Services Center.
“The people who come to class are wonderful. They’re amazing,” Arthur-Schiller says. “We’ve all become close friends, and it’s a pleasure to be with them.”
Schaefer says that plans are in the works for evening activities at Rocky River to serve a growing senior population still working. “When we’re open in the evening, that will open a whole new door.”
WORTH A VISIT
Before heading to your local senior center, check it out online or call. Some might have membership fees or extra costs for non-residents. Also, find out if a program that interests you requires pre-registration.