Should you join a senior center?

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Man painting at a senior center
Make sure the senior center offers activities you enjoy
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Joining a center may be a way to enjoy the senior years

Getting older presents us with a number of challenges. One of those challenges is increasing isolation. Family members move to pursue career opportunities. Friends and neighbors relocate to more hospitable climates when they retire.

Often older people move, too, to be closer to their families but ultimately farther away from familiar neighborhoods and community resources. 

A typical conversation about senior centers may sound similar to this:

The relatives of a senior may ask "Should you join a senior center?" Just as often, the answer is a resounding "No!" An irritated senior may add, "Why would I want to do that? Senior centers are full of nothing but old people!"

Some senior centers can be like that, serving elderly people who want a predictable place to while away dull afternoons, while putting forth little effort to make the center a vital, interesting community.

Other centers, however, respond to the realities of getting older, offering programs that meet a wide variety of interests. They recognize that seniors are physically and mentally active, enthusiastic about learning and teaching, interested in travel, world events and the arts.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and others as you decide whether you should join a senior center. 

Is The Center Friendly?

In order to find out if the center is friendly, plan on making several visits to some that interest you. Examine how you are welcomed as a newcomer. Are you greeted by staff and members? Do they ask about your interests and experiences? Or are you simply told "coffee costs a quarter"?

What's On The Calendar?

Most senior centers publish a weekly or monthly calendar of activities. Brief examination will tell you whether the center offers activities and programs you would enjoy.

But further examination may be needed. Plan to visit some of the activities that interest you. Do the programs match their descriptions? Is exercise taught at a level you can manage? Does the sewing/knitting group attract a lot of people, or is it simply a venue for a few people to sew and others to chat? Do card-players welcome newcomers or tell you to wait until someone yields a chair?

Do arts and crafts classes, book groups, or discussion groups have membership limits? Or do they have enough interested members to be viable? There's a lot to examine.

Who's In Charge?

As you talk to members about the center and its programs, do you hear "we" or "they"? In a vital center, members participate actively, choosing - and sometimes teaching - activities, choosing and changing programs based on members' interests.

In less active centers, staff members or volunteers may perform these functions with little input by members. Member involvement tells you a lot about the center's overall vitality.

What Does The Center Do For You?

Growing older has become more complicated than ever before in some areas of life.

A good senior center needs to seek out and present current, reliable information on issues of particular concern to seniors: health-insurance and medication-plan choices; housing and supportive-living options; government and other program benefits and services for seniors and how to access them.

Especially if you are new to the community, does the center provide information about other community programs of interest? Does it welcome other community groups? 

Some centers offer a midday meal. Is this something you would enjoy? Usually this is a hot, cooked meal. You may have to step back to the "old days," when dinner was at noon and the evening meal was "supper." If you are on a restricted diet, such as low-salt, low-fat or vegetarian, does the center make allowances for such concerns?

Some centers offer transportation. If you plan to drive your own car, check on parking options and find out how far you'll have to walk, a real consideration in foul weather.

If the center offers transportation, how does it work? Does the center offer rides for errands, shopping or medical appointments?

Getting acquainted with a senior center is very much like getting acquainted with any new activity at any age. A good center can add friends and new experiences to your life. A good center can acquaint you with a new community, or with an old one in new ways.

Consider taking an active and positive stance toward the question: "Should you join a senior center?" You can be confident that your efforts will result in a good decision that can enhance and enrich your life.


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