When I was a child, I can remember my grandparents going to the local senior center.

From a child’s point of view, it was a place where older people went to talk about their aches and pains. Frankly, I didn’t get the whole senior thing.

I never realized, a senior center was a place where titles were left at the door. There, you were just a neighbor, friend or maybe the new person in town coming to spend time with others. It wasn’t just card games and bingo they were playing. With every interaction, they were building relationships, support systems and helping one another just as they had always done.

Now that I am older, I realize the impact a senior center has on our seniors.

A senior center connects older adults to local services that can help them stay healthy and independent. These centers offer a wide variety of programs, including meals and nutritional programs, social and recreational activities, educational programs, and volunteer opportunities. Today’s centers want seniors to stay active and healthy by offering fitness programs like Silver Sneakers, Aerobics, Yoga, health screenings and support groups.

There are financial programs from basic financial planning to assistance in tax preparation.

“Research shows that older adults who participate in senior center programs can learn to manage and delay the onset of chronic diseases and experience measurable improvements in their physical, social, spiritual, emotional, mental and economic well-being,” according to the National Council on Aging.

Senior centers are also a great place to find volunteering opportunities. Volunteers are the glue that holds a center together.

By utilizing their strengths and knowledge, these dedicated individuals give of their time to help other seniors in areas such as transportation, program development and implementation assistance, and serve as instructors for physical exercise, chronic disease self-management programs and matter of balance falls prevention. Volunteers help with preparation, packing and delivery of hot nutritious meals, and are the essential key to the in-home delivered meals program.

“One in six seniors living alone faces physical, cultural, and/or geographical barriers that isolate them from their peers and communities,” the National Council on Aging said.

For these seniors, the in-home meal provides not just food but a lifeline to their community.

More than sustenance, these in-home delivered meals provide a senior social interaction, support and connection to his/her community. Most often, these volunteers are the only interaction home bound seniors have.

In 2018, Washington County senior centers and their many dedicated volunteers delivered 121,282 meals to local seniors, while also providing 63,542 meals at the local centers.

Senior centers everywhere are having trouble either maintaining or increasing attendance and membership.

People are wondering why.

The lunch meals are nutritious, tasty and the cost cannot be beat. No one leaves the centers hungry unless by choice. There are people to socialize with, or maybe to play cards with in addition to everyone’s favorite game of bingo. The programming still tries to get people motivated whether through music or exercise.

So why then?

There are more seniors now than ever before.

Welcome “Baby Boomers to the Golden Years.”

Most people I know who are between 60-70, do not like the phrase “senior citizen.”

Sure, they are the right age for the phrase, but their retirement days are different. Of course, they have similar needs and issues as those that came before them.

“(I) meet up with friends,” Karol Rudy said of her reasoning for coming to the senior center.

Today, many retirees have to return to the work force for part-time work to supplement for health insurance and medications. Many are full-time caregivers of their grandchildren or ailing parents, leaving them with little time for themselves. Others stay physically active with their gym memberships, shopping, dining out and traveling when time permits. When they get some spare time, the internet may get their attention.

If you ask people between 55-70 what a senior center is, the majority of the responses might be “that‘s where the older people go to eat and play bingo” or “It’s not for me. I don’t have time for that.”

“I come for companionship. ‘I live alone and everyone here is lovely and friendly. It is better that sitting at home and we help each other,” Pat Ross said.

Senior centers have been evolving through time by incorporating more inter-generational programming and offering some events during evenings and weekends so those who cannot attend during the day have a chance to be involved in the centers.

Today’s centers need help from all the “baby boomers” out there.

Centers do not want to stay stagnated. Centers can use help with fresh activity ideas and by offering new programming geared towards a more active and technical era.

“I come here every day, it is better than sitting home. I volunteer and I love bingo,” Alice Calabro said.

We need your knowledge of what the needs in the community are, how the center can be more involved, what programs the center can offer. There is also a great need for volunteers at the centers, including for the in-home meals delivery and, well, there are just too many volunteer needs to list.

A senior center is just a building but it is the heart and dedication of all its members who truly make these centers strong.

It’s a myth that Senior Centers are for “old people.”

“I have fun and have made a lot of friends. I moved here and did not know anyone now I have many friends,” Kathy DeRemo said.

Age is simply a number and even though we are all aging, growing up is optional.

“I want to support the Burgettstown center. I like the music,” Jack Cassella said.

If you have never been to your local Senior Center before or haven’t been there in a while, stop by. If you know someone who could benefit for the center’s programing, please contact your local center coordinator.

“I lost my husband and my son and needed fellowship and a place to be with other people,” Nancy Pienkosky said.

For more information on a local senior center, contact the following numbers:

Bentleyville Senior Center

  • – 724-239-5887

Beth-Center Senior Center

  • – 724-377-000

Burgettstown Senior Center

  • – 724-947-9524

Canonsburg Senior Center

  • – 724-745-5443

Claysville McGuffey Senior Center

  • – 724-663-4202

Cross Creek Senior Center

  • – 724-587-5755

McDonald Cecil Senior Center

  • – 724-743-1827

Washington Senior Center

  • – 724-222-8566

Aging Services of Washington County is funded by Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging, with funding provided by Pennsylvania Department of Aging and Washington County Board of Commissioners.

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