PRB Articles


Getting Older And Getting Better

Think of it as one-stop shopping for everything a healthy, active senior needs—lifelong learning classes, programs that can help members review the rules of the road or spruce up their wardrobe, wellness workshops that can teach seniors ways to stop smoking or understand Alzheimer’s disease, and day trips to the area’s top attractions. The Adult Activity Center (AAC) in St. Charles, Ill., is a hive of activity and a haven for older adults looking to hold the aging process at bay.

“We provide recreation and leisure activities for individuals age 50 and older,” says Meghan Papke, Adult Activities Supervisor for the St. Charles Park District. 

The numbers speak for themselves: one building; 80 hours of programs, trips, and activities each week; 600+ members, whose demographic ranges from age 50 to 100—all for a membership fee of only $10 per year.

From disc golf to bocce ball, table tennis to line dancing, pinochle to mahjong, quilting to book discussions, there is sure to be a daily drop-in activity to appeal to anyone.

On The Road

Along with these daily activities, the AAC sponsors regular monthly activities that have become favorite events among the members. Held on the first Thursday of every month from 1 p.m to 3 p.m., potluck parties are great opportunities for socialization and fellowship, says Papke. Inspired by a central theme, the main entrée for the afternoon meal is provided by the park district—everything from a barbecued pulled-pork picnic in the summer to heartwarming stew in the winter. Registered guests sign up to bring a side dish or dessert—a great way to try out a new recipe or show off an old favorite.

And twice a year, the park district teams up with the local Rotary Club to offer an early-bird breakfast, complete with omelets (prepared to your liking), donuts, and all the morning fixins’. Attendees also enjoy the raffle auction to win a variety of prizes donated from local merchants.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” says Papke. “The raffle is a win-win for local businesses to promote their services by offering gift certificates to get traffic back to their front door.”

Focusing on alert minds, healthy bodies, and energized spirits, the AAC offers a variety of meaningful programs that can be as simply relaxing as an old-fashioned game of bingo or as intellectually stimulating as learning a new computer skill. They can be as low-key as a learn-to-knit or crochet class, an evening of singing and making s’mores around a campfire, or as far-reaching as a motor-coach trip to one of Wisconsin’s most popular tourist attractions.

“We try to provide a mix of activities that have both the comfort of familiarity and the challenge of variety,” says Papke. 

Designing new programs that both capture members’ attention and introduce them to a subject or area attraction they may not have known about is the fun part of the job for Papke. Often working in conjunction with the park district’s naturalist, she crafts classes and outings that capitalize on the many public gardens and natural attractions the Chicago area has to offer. Monthly day trips, better known as ‘Funtastic Fridays,’ offer an educational component about nature that really showcases the wealth of information available from the park district’s naturalist staff.

“We will visit a place where we can really focus on the knowledge our naturalist has about what’s going on in the natural world,” says Papke. Participants enjoy visits to Chicago’s Botanical Gardens, the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, and the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, to name a few.

No Worries

For all AAC-sponsored day trips, transportation is provided by the park district. And whether it’s a short jaunt down to Aurora or a longer trek into Chicago, so many members tell Papke they appreciate not having to worry about how they’ll get to where they’re going.

“This is another attractive part of being an AAC member,” says Papke.  “They say, ‘Oh, it’s so easy. We’ll just go with Meghan!’”

“Going with Meghan” can mean taking part in cultural outings, such as a visit to the Art Institute in downtown Chicago; an afternoon at the Arlington Race Track; a college football game; or a dramatic murder-mystery performance at a local theatre.

“We try to offer the kind of day trips that someone wouldn’t necessarily do on their own,” says Papke. “It’s fun and easy to do these trips, to have the peace of mind that everything is taken care of.”

Body And Soul

And taking care of body and soul is at the heart of the AAC’s mission. Wellness seminars, such as medication identification and storage, creation of a safe home environment, and understanding and managing insurance benefits, focus on important and often difficult topics in a clear, confident, and caring way.

For those who are interested in movin’ and groovin’ with some physical exercise, there’s a monthly walking club that visits neighboring parks and natural areas, a variety of fitness and yoga programs to increase flexibility and strengthen muscles, and even a fun and fab hula hoop class to tone the abs, glutes, and thighs. And don’t forget the ever-popular sport of Pickleball, a combination of Ping-Pong, tennis, and badminton.  

A Popular Place

With hundreds of older adults, both men and women, taking advantage of the socialization and learning activities, as well as the special events and day trips, the AAC is a popular gathering place.

“Last year, our daily check-ins increased by 2,500 from the year before,” says Papke. “Our current members are using the facility more and more every day.”

Along with its daily calendar of drop-in activities that are open on a limitless basis and the variety of special programming available to all members, the AAC also offers three dedicated programming rooms that members can also use as often as they like. A computer/media lounge offers six computer terminals and a large-screen TV, making the room a great place to check email, use the internet for research, or watch a recently released movie. The adjacent card room is a great place for the type of socialization that naturally springs from game playing, from traditional card games to those that use newer technology, like the Wii gaming systems. And there is almost always a pool game going in the nearby billiards room.  

Staying active and engaged in a community lifestyle can mean the difference between aging successfully and aging prematurely.

“These programs bring a level of enthusiasm and appreciation when people start realizing what possibilities are available,” says Papke. 

For more information about the St. Charles Park District’s Adult Activity Center, contact Meghan Papke at 630-513-4324 or via email at mpapke@stcparks.org. Visit the website at stcparks.org.

Erika Young is the Public Relations & Marketing Manager for the St. Charles Park District

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