Note: This is a guest post from Bonita (Lynn) Beattie, Vice President, Injury Prevention, National Council on Aging.
When she retired, Kie Ann Kirk, 66, found herself spending lots of time in her recliner. But it wasn’t always relaxing. “I was sitting home having pity party for myself,” Kie Ann recalls. “I had to retire, and I was recovering from breast cancer. Some weeks, I never even left the house.” Then friend from church asked her for a favor. A volunteer at the local senior center was leaving – could Kie Ann fill in one day week? Two years later, Kie Ann is a key volunteer and active participant at the Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center in Wabash, IN. “I started seeing old friends, talking with people, helping others, and it felt so good,” she says.
Kie Ann is part of highly organized team of senior volunteers that runs the center’s Community Cupboard Food Pantry – a critical community service that collects and distributes food to people who are struggling in this economy. “I help hand out food once a week,” Kie Ann explains. “Once a month, I also help distribute an extra box of food to low-income seniors who are 60 and over.” For Kie Ann, the pantry has led to even more opportunities to stay active and get involved through the senior center.
“It got me out of my recliner,” she says. “Now I go three times a week to low-impact aerobics class, and I volunteer in other ways.” When she filled in for a receptionist, Kie Ann got a first-hand look at the wide array of services the senior center provides for older adults in the community – including transportation, meals, fitness classes, help with choosing a Medicare plan and more.
Senior centers are not what they used to be. Today’s senior center is a vibrant, action-packed combination of a local fitness center, a job and volunteering headquarters, a transportation hub and a tasty dining locale. You don’t have to be on Medicare to take advantage of all the great opportunities at your local senior center. Today, nearly 11,000 senior centers serve 1 million older adults aged 50+ every day. Research shows that compared with their peers, senior center participants have higher levels of health, social interaction and life satisfaction. Most senior centers offer far more than just card games – everything from trips and special events to fine arts and crafts, music and dance, lifelong learning and fitness and health programs.
Senior centers are also a great place to find work and volunteering opportunities. Older adults who are looking for a part-time job to supplement their retirement income would do well to check out their local senior center. Many offer job training and placement programs as well as volunteering opportunities.
Health and fitness are where senior centers have really expanded in recent years. In addition to traditional programs like aerobics, Zumba, yoga and Tai Chi, many senior centers now offer evidence-based health programs that have been scientifically proven to make people healthier. Many senior centers also offer regularly scheduled blood pressure and glucose screenings that can replace tedious trips to a medical clinic for those simple procedures.
Get to know your local senior center this September! September is National Senior Center Month, sponsored by the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC), part of the National Council on Aging (NCOA). All around the country, senior centers are hosting special events to showcase the theme: It Happens at My Senior Center. My Life. My Time. My Way.
Photo credit: Beverly Ferry, CEO, Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center in Wabash, IN, courtesy of the National Council on Aging.