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How to Make Your Senior Citizen Center Come Alive!

Senior centers are common entities all throughout the United States. They have been in place for decades & act as a great place for senior citizens to bridge the gap between retirement and old age. Studies have shown that people who are regular patrons of the senior centers in their area are healthier physically, mentally, emotionally & financially.  Most senior centers are funded locally, by people in the community, but some also get state and federal funding or grant monies in order to keep them viable.

The atmosphere of senior citizen centers is as widely diverse as the people that attend them.  Some are full of life already, and have loads of activities all throughout the day, as well as great-tasting, healthful food and informative talks.  Others are just barely holding on by a thread and only offer the bare bones necessities when it comes to food and entertainment.  Find out what the senior citizen center in your area is like, and then commit to making a difference where you are.

The ratio of men to women at senior citizen centers is widely in favor of women, but in speaking with an elderly woman that attends her senior center regularly, she indicated that men are not altogether out of the loop. “Those older gentlemen really do appreciate getting their meals cooked for them…well, we ladies like getting ours cooked for us too, for that matter!” And meals are a huge part of what senior citizen centers do.  They prepare meals daily for the elderly in their area.  The seniors sign up for the meals that they’ll buy, and the cooks make sure there is a meal waiting for them.

But while eating is a large part of what goes on at senior citizen centers across the nation, it is not the only thing that happens there.   You might say that the food gives people an excuse to get together, but it is a small part of what keeps them coming back every week.  If people were only looking to be fed, they could order appetizers from a restaurant and do just as well.  Senior citizen centers, however, offer much more than food.  They offer community.  And community is hard to find these days.  While you’re visiting your local senior community center, if you find that there are not as many activities or classes as you’d like, offer some ideas to the activity’s director.  It might be that he/she is wearing many hats and trying to get funding for the endeavor is crowding out time to organize events.  Be open, be vibrant & be a part of the change.

Activities that are common in senior citizen centers are quilting, cards & talks. Sometimes, however, finding things that are newer and exciting can be quite challenging!  Offer to ask your great niece or nephew if they’d come to share their musical talent.  See about your old neighbor and find out if their son is still doing physical therapy.  Maybe he could come and do a talk about posture & therapies that could help with common elderly complaints.  If you know someone in dance school, ask if they’d perform for your group.  Start a painting class if you’re an artist.

One place that I’ve been has weekly story-telling session.  A person can prepare a story of their own to share, or they can bring a story that they’ve recently read that they think others will enjoy.  This might require a bit of effort on the part of the storyteller to come prepared to speak in front of others, but it is not costly, nor does it require a lot of coordination.

Other creative ideas include sculpture classes, free form with clay.  Sculpting ornaments from clay or applesauce/cinnamon around Christmastime.  You could also do fruit sculptures in order to make centerpieces for another event the same day.  Think about the things you’ve done in the past using different mediums.  In the spring, you could sculpt garden sculptures to place in outdoor areas around the senior center or at people’s apartment buildings.

If it’s painting, consider classes that will award the winners with a spot on your gallery wall at the center.  Or think about things that could be painted for utilitarian purposes.  Do the walls need to be painted?  Or cabinet doors?  Are there fixtures that need a face-lift?  Let people know that a certain day will be a face-lift day for the building and create a sense of ownership and community by letting them be involved.  Even if they can’t physically help, they can serve coffee or lemonade to those who are helping.

Play cards, but also have a magician come in and teach some slight of hand tricks that the patrons can use to amaze their great-grandchildren or other neighborhood children to help bridge the gap between the generations.  Or invite the neighborhood children to attend the event, as well.  The patrons and the neighborhood children will have an equally enjoyable time trying out their new skills on one another!

If you are running out of ideas, think of one thing, “crochet” for instance, then think of many ways to apply it.  A crocheting class is great, but what if it involved a different medium than yarn?  What if you found a way to use plastic bags for a better purpose than filling the landfills and instead crocheted them into something else useful?  When you start looking at things in an open-ended way, you’ll find that you come up with far more ideas than you’ll have time to implement.

Involving nature studies of some kind is another important thing that gets overlooked.  Oftentimes, because these events are held within doors and in towns or cities, seniors can become cut off from nature.  Even holding classes and bringing in specimens to discuss can help bolster discussion and discovery.

So, attend, volunteer, help come up with ideas and resources that will make your senior center an active, vibrant part of your community!

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