Today, senior centers have become a significant necessity for the older population throughout our Nation. These centers bring together millions of adults over 50, connecting them as one community while receiving fundamental services to improve their health and wellbeing. Basically, senior centers help older adults to join a community of their peers while getting out of the house for some fun and exciting activities.
Why Do We Need Senior Centers?
The Older Americans Act (OAA) considers senior centers as America’s focal point in offering a variety of community services and programs that will increase healthy senior living. On average, 75% of older adults spend 3.3 hours per week at senior centers and participate in several events or activities about 3 times per week. Seniors that use the centers mostly have an increased level of health and life satisfaction. The average age of participants at the senior centers is 75. According to the National Council on Aging, 70% of people who use senior centers are Women. Senior centers also provide a variety of programs or services to anyone over 50 years old. Here is a list of possible programs that may be offered at a senior center:
- Meal and nutrition programs: Sometimes, a volunteer from the center may drop off meals to those not able to leave their homes. Most centers are equipped with full kitchens; some even provide restaurant-size accommodations for large community events. Some may also offer cooking classes for seniors who need help in eating a healthy diet or offer the Meals on Wheels program to those who are not able to leave their homes. These types of programs may help prevent diseases and promote good health.
- Information and assistance: Do you need help? Most centers can aid seniors in a variety of ways. Such as providing information on illnesses or diseases commonly affecting seniors.
- Health, fitness, and wellness programs: senior centers across America offer many types of programs designed to keep seniors healthy and active as they continue throughout the stages of aging.
- Transportation services: Many have vehicles that provide handicap accessible ramps for easy pick-ups. Some may also provide seniors to shopping centers or grocery stores.
- Public benefits counseling: Sometimes the center may allow organizations such as AA or NA to use their facilities for counseling help. Other times they may provide counseling on Medicare assistance.
- Employment assistance: for those looking for a job, the center may have a government official to guide the senior in where to find employment.
- Volunteer and civic engagement opportunities: senior centers also will find ways to make positive changes within their community and help reduce barriers. They may also work closely with the city’s Mayor.
- Social and recreational activities: whether it is for pleasure, leisure, or sports-related, senior centers have something for every older adult to enjoy and have fun. It is also a great place to create new friendships with other seniors who have similar goals.
- Educational and arts programs: Many times, a senior center will offer art programs to help seniors find their creative side. Tutoring programs may also be available to those who have gone back to school and are working on a degree.
How are Senior Centers Funded?
In many centers throughout the US, the senior centers are resourced by either federal, state, or local government entities. Sometimes special events will provide donations from the public or through grants. Donations may also come from businesses or personal contributions from both private and public organizations. In most cases, a center may rely on several types of funding sources to meet their needs. The persons that help run each center are usually volunteers, government employees, or just people from local nonprofit organizations. Some senior centers may offer job training or placement programs. The people who provide the job training are usually current or former teachers and counselors working within the district or the county’s school system. This type of program can be beneficial for those who are empty-nesters and are looking to stay academically active or just need a new career path. Some educational activities available at the centers are designed to regain cognitive levels. Which we all know can be a huge benefit for the elderly or anyone over 60 years old. Taking advantage of these senior centers can provide many learning opportunities and get the minds of seniors thinking and learning better.
Additional Services at a Senior Center
The growing technology era has also affected how senior adults socialize and communicate with other older adults while at the center. Many community centers geared to seniors provide computer labs and multi-purpose media rooms for entertainment or conference purposes. Many will offer relaxing chairs suitable for seniors. Senior centers may also offer caregiver support groups or respite programs for those who are dealing with a family member suffering from end-of-life situations. A community food pantry may also be available for seniors at the center. It is common for centers to offer these services to low-income older adults. In most cases, all services at a community senior center are free; however, some may ask for donations from their participants on certain events that seniors will take part in. Some senior centers may also offer home maintenance assistance. Maintaining your home as you age can sometimes be a chore. Seniors might need assistance with an occasional minor task around the house. For example, providing home repairs and seasonal help to seniors such as raking leaves or shoveling snow can help make a difference to the older population while they still are living in their own homes.
Other programs at the center may include dancing classes, financial planning counseling, book clubs, bowling, and even field trips to the local theater for an upcoming movie premiere. And of course, there are seniors who enjoy both board games and card games. Whether you are looking for recreational activities, taking exercise classes, or just want to socialize with other seniors, a senior center will provide everyone with the best services that fit their needs.
Are Any Senior Centers Accredited?
According to the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC), there are over 250 senior centers around the country that have received accreditation for all they do to help seniors live a healthy and active life. It is one of the largest national membership organizations dedicated to serving senior center professionals. The NISC provides support to a national network of over 3,000 senior center professionals, working to keep older adults active and healthy, improving their quality of life, and independence throughout their communities. Receiving this accreditation provides official recognition that their senior center has met the nine standards of senior center operations. According to the site, over 200 senior centers have received accreditation for their efforts, and many more are on their way.
Why should your senior center join NISC? The organization focuses on the needs of senior center professionals that run the centers and addresses issues that are important to them, along with how they serve the older adults throughout their communities. It’s like a partnership, the organization helps those who serve the community and get what they need to reach out to seniors in need. By joining the NISC, your center will have access to a monthly newsletter, educational webinars, networking, national projects, and public policy updates. National conference discounts may also apply.
Common classes available for seniors to participate in while at the center:
- Tai chi
- Computer classes
- Board/card games
- Book Clubs
- Safe Driving tips for Seniors
- Financial Planning assistance
- Cooking/Nutrition courses
Are There Any Nonprofit Senior Centers?
Although some centers are run by government entities, there may be a few that are operational through not-for-profit organizations. They are often run by trusted charities within the city’s limits or county-funded. The people who run these nonprofit centers are often pleasant and happy to serve their community. Most of the time their services are free to access since they are run through charitable funds. However, they may appreciate some donations to help with the cost to run the center. Many times, the centers will only ask for a few dollars a month or a fixed amount for the year. There are other centers that may also offer senior discounts on specific classes or events at the center.
The senior centers that are run through nonprofit organizations will most likely have volunteers as part of the staff yet have a paid manager to help the center run smoothly. Although these centers are offered as not-for-profits, some may have membership fees for certain services or programs. Each center is run differently, meaning, some may ask participants to make a reservation for specific classes or programs. This is important, so they know how many individuals are expected to attend an event or activity being held.
How to Find a Senior Center near You
It is not that difficult to find a senior center in your area. Most big cities will have at least a few throughout their county. For those who live outside city limits, you may still have one or two in an average size town. Sometimes, you can find one by just contacting your Chamber of Commerce. However, in most rural areas they may be hard to find. Seniors looking for a center in a small country town may need to branch out to the next larger town to find exactly what they need from a senior center.
Seniors can also receive a referral to a center by a doctor, social worker, a close friend, or a church member. They can refer you to one in your local area. Of course, you can always do an internet search to find the best senior center for all your needs. Just type in “Senior Center” and your zip code to find the one closest to you. By doing this, you may get more than just specifically senior centers. Sometimes they are also called nutritional centers, which can be open to all ages. Whatever is your decision to find a senior center, know that they are there to provide you with all your personal needs, wants, and help improve your quality of life.
The Importance of Senior Centers
As we can see, there are many benefits of attending a senior center. Yet, how do they really help seniors live healthy lives? Most people will agree that one of the main purposes of senior centers is to help seniors keep their independence. Staying socially, physically, and mentally active while you head into the later years of life is important as we age. The centers can also help seniors become more self-sufficient and provide a supportive community with many benefits. It is true that when you walk into a senior center, you will see older adults participating in different activities; however, the centers are not just for individuals over 50. Many senior centers do open their doors to the public for special events or programs. Some centers also offer services to all who enter and where everyone can come together to have fun, share experiences, and learn something new each time they arrive.
Without a strong community of senior centers, many adults over 50 may lose interest in basic daily living activities and become easily bored with life. People in their 50s and beyond need to fill their lives with interesting things, including staying active with other seniors, so they can avoid feeling isolated or lost from society. That is why centers geared to seniors are essential for their social life. Especially if no family is not living nearby. Many seniors may struggle just doing daily activities without the encouragement and communication of others around them. Seniors may also develop mental health problems when there is no interaction with their peers. Therefore, senior centers are extremely beneficial and important for the seniors in your life. Seniors who make at least one weekly visit to a senior center can be a difference between isolation and a vibrant life. It can become the social highlight of their week.