The Senior Sector

Life experiences define individuality.

The older adult population (age 50 years and beyond as defined by AARP) also carries an attachment to historical events; these experiences carry through the remainder of their lives and affect the choices they make.

What Shapes A Senior?

Take into consideration the impact of historical events such as the Great Depression (1929), the repeal of Prohibition (1933), the attack on Pearl Harbor (1941), the Space Race (1957), the Civil Rights Movement (1965) and Women’s Movement (1966), as well as the Vietnam War (1964).

In a span of less than 40 years, the manner in which life was lived was completely altered.

Think for a moment about the older adult who was in the prime of his or her youth during the Great Depression. That person likely experienced hunger, poverty, rationing and unemployment in the family like many others at that time.

He or she also would likely have a different vantage point than someone who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, with the notion that one voice can make a difference.

Both generations currently fall into the older-adult sector, which senior centers are to serve and serve fairly.

Does this idea sound too farfetched? Look at it this way: For the first half of your life, recreational activities are segmented according to a particular stage. Programs such as parent-tot swimming lessons, toddler-tumbling and T-ball are specially designed and administered.

Sports progress through every grade at school at the same rate as the participants. As the competition changes, skills are honed and new things are learned.

New opportunities become available with age throughout high school and college.

After a successful career and raising a family, retirement approaches--now what? For the next undetermined number of years, what are people supposed to do?

Role Of The Senior Center In A Community

This is where the local senior center comes into play. I know, I know. It’s a senior center and most people believe they are not old enough to go there.

Remember, age has nothing to do with ability and desire. A senior center is not an assisted-living facility nor is it a senior community.

Senior centers fill the gap. They cater to older adults within an area or region (i.e., city, county, district) who are still living independently. These folks are seeking opportunities to socially and intellectually engage with others, foster friendships, experience new ideas, and contribute their skills and knowledge.

And they are relying on public and private entities such as senior centers, fitness centers and whatever social groups and clubs meet to fill this need.

Recreation Programming Considerations

There is much to consider when programming for older adults. The age range is difficult to accommodate fairly, but then also to take into consideration the vast degree of differences in abilities--physical, mental and financial, the expectations of convenience, customer service, government, community and socialization.

There are varying levels of education among this older adult segment, varying ideals on gender roles and varying levels of acceptance to ethnic and social diversity; not to mention the physical, emotional, environmental and intrinsic personal needs.

Senior centers have a unique opportunity to address the needs and interests of all older adults in their community by becoming an all-inclusive provider.

The ability to serve all these adults is imperative, and requires the creativity to make the experience seamless to the participants.

A successful senior center model should include aspects of health, personal and support services; opportunities for socialization, travel and volunteering; special events, intellectual engagement, artistic expression and fitness and well-being programs.

The real key is not only to provide it, but to provide it with heart and true intention, so programming interests are made available to all older adults. This means a careful examination of the balance and diversity of programs being offered and taking into consideration the interest, affordability, skill requirement, timeliness and relevance to the participants.

So, be as careful planning senior activities as you are in planning Little League.

Seniors have an equally important place in the community and perhaps even more in recreational programming: their options are more limited, but your programming shouldn’t be.

Anne Lane, CPRP, is the Senior Center Manager for the city of McMinnville Parks & Recreation Department in McMinnville, Ore. She can be reached via e-mail at