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Senior Centers: Masters in Aging

Have you heard about places which offer low cost meals and friendly people? Do you enjoy card games, Tai Chi, oil painting, billiards, devotions, bingo, educational presentations, singing, and/or visiting new places (without the hassle of making the arrangements yourself)? Are you alone at home and would you enjoy conversation? If you can answer yes to any of these opportunities, they may be readily available to you at a local senior center!

September is National Senior Center Month, and this year’s theme is Senior Centers: Masters in Aging. The folks I met at one local senior center, Mechanicsburg Place, appear to be doing just that!  Take Bob for example.  At the age of 90, he attends Crossfit classes twice weekly and a Silver Sneakers exercise program.  Despite these activities, he still felt lonely at home after losing his wife to Alzheimer’s disease a number of years ago.  He first came to Mechanicsburg Place about four months ago.  Has he found the socialization he was seeking?  His response is “There’s no place like it.  Everybody is so friendly!”

Ann, who I never would have guessed is also age 90, has been attending for more than ten years. “I enjoy coming here. I look forward to it.”  She encourages people to “just make one visit” so they can see for themselves the opportunities which are available.  She appreciates all that the center offers so close to her home.

Randy started coming to the center in 2014 for the meals and was “forced to socialize” since he was surrounded by others who were actively engaged in life. He now attends daily and appreciates a healthy steps exercise class and card games.  Dian also attends daily and states, “It’s a wonderful place.”  She no longer drives and relies on free transportation from Rabbit Transit for travel to and from her temporary location at a rehabilitation center in Carlisle. She first came to the center two years ago, but was unable to attend for a while after an illness and a need for daily therapy. Once her therapy ended, she was anxious to return to the center and arrangements were able to be made to accommodate her unique circumstances as she waits for a new apartment.

Carol’s attendance at the center started a little differently. While the others visited at the suggestion of their children, Carol first came because of her husband.  He attended the center for years and was there “all the time” while Carol continued to work. After she retired, she accompanied him until he died about a year later.  She remains a regular at the center and declares, “I wouldn’t have gotten through his passing without the people here.”

This is just a snapshot of the 30-40 people who attend Mechanicsburg Place each day. The feel and function of the various senior centers in our area may vary according to the personalities of those who attend the center as well as that of the director.  Danielle, the director of Mechanicsburg Place, reports that the primary concern of older adults who inquire about her senior center program is “How am I going to fit in?”  She is striving to create a place where people are able build relationships and although she has been the director for less than a year, she has seen the average daily attendance double since she started.  Guests are allowed three free visits to the center while they decide whether or not they feel comfortable.  This center is located at 97 W. Portland St., Mechanicsburg and can be reached by calling 717-697-5947.

In addition to the socialization which is available at the center, another primary benefit is meals. Older adults who live alone, have lower incomes, and/or are experiencing a chronic disease are at risk for malnutrition due to possible challenges with shopping and meal preparation. A dislike of eating alone may also exist.  Any of these situations can contribute to an older adult skipping meals or replacing them with less nutritious snacks.   Inadequate nutrition can aggravate chronic disease as well as lead to weakness and falls.  Senior centers help remedy these problems by providing a hot meal for lunch. People who are under age 60 pay a $5 daily charge for meals, while those age 60 and over pay $2 daily.  These funds are submitted to the Cumberland County Aging & Community Services office since they assume responsibility for managing the meal program.

Some older adults in the community benefit from the programs of Mechanicsburg Place even though they choose not to attend the center. Numerous trips and special events occur each month and are open to active members.  This center requests a $25 donation per year in order to receive the monthly newsletter which lists these activities, although non-dues paying memberships are also available. The monthly calendar is always posted at the center.

If Mechanicsburg Place is not a convenient option for you, other centers exist at the following locations in Cumberland County:

Big Spring Senior Center: 91 Doubling Gap Rd., Ste.1, Newville.  717-776-4478

Branch Creek Place: 115 N. Fayette St., Shippensburg.  717-300-3563

Carlisle Senior Action Center: 20 E. Pomfret St., Carlisle.  717-249-5007

Mary C. Shaner Senior Center: 98 S. Enola Dr., Enola.  717-732-3915

West Shore Senior Citizens Center: 122 Geary Ave., New Cumberland.  717-774-0409

A visit to a senior center may be out of your comfort zone, but you may find the effort will open up a world of opportunity for you. Take the chance and call one today!

Karen Kaslow, RN