Active And Engaged
By Todd Riddick
Running a successful, active adult center (aka senior center) does not have to be done by a parks and recreation department alone. In late 2012, the city of Raleigh, N.C., opened two such centers—the Five Points Center for Active Adults and the Anne Gordon Center for Active Adults.
The original plan was for one 25,000-square-foot building with a price tag of $7.7 million. However, after public input, and some criticism, the center was reduced to 20,000 square feet to be located in the Whitaker Mill-Five Points area. Now known as the Five Points Center for Active Adults, the reduced size meant that additional funds were now available, so plans moved forward to put a center on the campus of Millbrook Exchange Park. The Anne Gordon Center for Active Adults is approximately 4,500 square feet and is intended to be one of several satellite centers. Where does $7.7 million come from? In 2007, an $88.6-million bond referendum was approved by the voters. The total sum went towards several new projects, renovations, and upgrades. Voters approved bonds in 1995, 2000, 2003, 2007, and again in 2014. Touching the lives of the masses as opposed to focusing on one major project can be a key to obtaining a bond vote.
At 20,000 square feet of space, programming for the Five Points Center may seem like a tall task. Partnerships were created to offer programs and services for the adult population, including:
Meals on Wheels
Each day, Meals on Wheels serves free lunches to qualified senior citizens. As a sidelight, patrons also can play bingo while at the center.
Resources For Seniors
A representative with Resources for Seniors has an office in the Five Points Center and is thus available when seniors have questions about adult day-care options, in-home services, transportation options, home repairs, support groups, finances, long-term care, legal services, and more. Resources for Seniors hosts seminars and offers classes on many subjects of importance to the aging community at both centers.
Senior Tech Ed
Senior Tech Ed is a group of local senior citizens who teach various technologies to elderly people in the community. What began as basic computer classes has evolved into teaching skills on tablets, iPads, iPhones, social media, and various computer applications. Both of the centers host these classes and, as part of the agreement, a portion of the registration fees come back to the city.
Each year, beginning in February, AARP completes tax returns for area senior citizens for free. This year, the group came in on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., until the end of the tax season.
Each facility is popular and unique in its programming and partnerships in its own way. Anne Gordon Center is in the front of a large, bustling park within sight of a busy road and beside a large high school. This location, plus the smaller footprint of the building, makes the multi-purpose room a great spot for neighborhood meetings, advisory boards, and small church services. A local church now rents the room every Sunday. Five Points Center is a desirable location for large functions and groups and is regularly used for departmental and city-wide meetings during the day. The size and location also make it a hit in the rental world. Rentals for weddings, receptions, memorial services, reunions, and birthdays have all been common on the weekend schedule, which is rarely empty.
The dynamics of the average “senior citizen” group have changed. Long gone are the days when seniors were perceived as sedentary and resting on their retirement fund. Card games, bingo, basic art activities, and sit-and-listen (to the tour guide) trips used to be the norm.
Those activities still have their place in programs, but since the baby boomers entered the senior citizen world, recreation professionals need to provide different experiences. The boomers have characteristics that are considered atypical of previous generations of seniors. They are work-centered, independent, goal-oriented, and competitive. New terminology is used in various municipalities such as “New Agers,” “Respected Elders,” and “Active Adults.” Variety is the key in what recreation professionals offer this age group, including sports, active trips, physical fitness, social events, and common-interest clubs. With boomers continuing to enter this age group, programming will become less age-exclusive. The competitive nature of boomers will continue to lead them to play with the “younger crowd” when it comes to sports and fitness.
More importantly, boomers are very work-centered; more seniors will work longer, and retirement will come later, but recreation professionals still need to reach out with programs and activities. For many years parks and recreation departments focused on daytime hours for senior programming. The need to extend operating hours into the evening and/or weekends to accommodate working seniors should be examined. Of course, additional hours require more funding to pay operating costs, so if those funds cannot be obtained, the possibility of shifting hours should be explored. Just as with every segment of the population, the needs and wants of “seniors” are changing, and we need to keep up with these trends.
Todd Riddick is the Adult Program Director for the city of Raleigh Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources in North Carolina. Reach him at Todd.Riddick@raleighnc.gov.