Excursions abroad, spa visits, fitness club memberships, cocktail parties — they’re not things commonly associated with senior centers but they should be.
Eager to lose the image that they’re simply places for old people to have lunch and play bingo, local senior centers are enhancing their offerings to appeal to a younger, more active crowd.
According to the National Council on Aging, it’s a nationwide trend, brought on by the desire to meet the needs of the aging baby boom generation, which now constitutes more than two-thirds of the over-50 population.
“We try to take a positive view of aging, realizing that we can’t stop it, but while people are coming to us, we can at least show them how to have a good time,” said Edward Neary, executive director of Colonie Senior Service Centers.
The organization is working to appeal to younger seniors by offering health and wellness programs, cocktail parties, unique educational opportunities and resources to help with issues related to caring for aging parents.
Last year, the organization developed a program at the Rudy A. Ciccotti Family Recreation Center that allows seniors with CDPHP health insurance to make use of the pool and exercise equipment there free of charge. The program has brought in a wave of new participants who Neary predicts will, over time, take advantage of other activities Colonie Senior Service Centers offers.
around town series
Also designed to appeal to the younger set is the organization’s Around Town series, which transports participants to educational programs at the University at Albany, films at the Spectrum and more.
The organization attracts members of the sandwich generation with programs that can assist with difficult life decisions, such as how to get an adult parent to give up driving or how to prepare for retirement.
“We still do everything for older seniors that we always did,” Neary noted. “There’s bingo, art classes, card playing. Don’t be a rookie and go to the bridge card players [group] because they’ll throw you out. They’re serious about bridge.”
Eileen Langer-Smith calls the 55- to 65-year-old crowd “freestylers.”
“This is seen across the United States in the demographics: Under 65, they’re not joiners,” said Langer-Smith, who is project coordinator for the town of Rotterdam’s Office of Aging and Parks and Recreation.
Many people in that age group are working longer than expected as well, she noted.
To pique the interest of the freestylers, the Rotterdam Senior Citizens’ Center offers two levels of Italian language instruction, pool playing and a class on alternative health care practices. Some programs are offered in the evening, to cater to those who work during the day.
At the centers
Check out what's going on at local senior centers
Colonie Senior Service Centers
May 28 — Driver Safety Fair, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 28 at the Beltrone Living Center, 6 Winners Circle, Colonie. The fair will feature exhibitors, seminars and door prizes.
Guests will learn how to maintain driving skills, how to continue driving with arthritis and other physical challenges, and how to best maintain your car.
For more information on the fair and other upcoming activities, call 459-2857, extension 326.
Niskayuna Senior Center
May 17 — NiskaDay celebration in Niskayuna. Center members will march in the parade and have a information table at the event.
May 28 — Trip to Proctors Theater for the opening night of “Phantom of the Opera”
June 25 — Trip to Mac-Haydn Theater for a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and lunch at Winding Brook Country Club in Chatham.
All trips, events, and activities are open to the public.
For more information visit, www.niskayuna.org and click on the “town departments” tab or call 372-4969.
Rotterdam Senior Citizens’ Center
June 9 — Outdoor summer concert series starts. A different band will play at 7 p.m. every Monday outside the senior center through Aug. 18. If the weather is inclement, concerts will be held in the auditorium.
For more information about the concerts and other programs at the center, visit http://rotterdamny.org and click on the “our community” tab or call 356-1561.
Saratoga Adult and Senior Center has a variety of upcoming trips close to home and around the globe. For more information, visit saratogaseniorcenter.org or call 584-1621.
Scotia-Glenville Senior Center publishes “Senior Moments,” a newsletter full of upcoming events and activities. To download a copy, visit www.townofglenville.org and click the “town departments” tab or call 374-0734 for more information.
Shenendehowa Adult Community Center has a flea market, orchestra concert and much more on the calendar for the coming months. For more information, visit http://shenacc.org/ or call 383-1343.
Classes in line dancing, painting and ceramics are on the schedule, too.
“What we’re trying to do is offer a variety of things that when you’re younger and working all the time, [you say,] ‘Oh, I wish I could take a class in this,’ So we provide all those classes that you wish you’d tried,” Langer-Smith said.
Discounted trips in the U.S. and abroad have been a big draw for younger seniors at the Adult and Senior Center of Saratoga, said Colleen Kelley, the center’s program director.
On the schedule this year is a European river cruise, as well as trips to Thailand, the Canadian Rockies, and the American West.
Also popular are close-to-home trips to destinations like MASS MoCa and The Clark Institute.
Once a month, program participants get pampered at the Roosevelt Baths and Spa in Saratoga Springs. The center offers art classes on topics like crafting Spirit Dolls and jewelry-making. Walking and hiking groups go on frequent outings, too.
Not just sitting
“People have such a negative connotation of senior centers. They think everyone’s sitting around and playing bingo or doing nothing, but they’re very active,” Kelley said.
Membership at the Saratoga center has jumped from 300 to about 1,200 in the past four years, and staff members are working to raise that number even higher.
This year, for the first time, organizers invited about 100 community members ranging in age from their 30s to 50s to a cocktail party where the center’s offerings were on display.
“A lot of times they have to just come in and see,” Kelley said.
The Niskayuna Senior Center has a senior advisory group that meets monthly to offer insight about how the center can be a go-to place for younger, more active seniors.
The center also recently partnered with Schenectady County’s Public Health Department and Cornell Cooperative Extension to offer a healthier menu.
New entrees include crab meat salad and low-sodium chicken alfredo with reduced-fat cheese.
Younger seniors have been calling weekly about the trips the center offers to restaurants, museums, historic sites and theaters, said Cindy Desso, one of the center’s coordinators.
“If we can just bring them in for one event or activity and make them feel welcome and special, I find that we will be able to draw them in,” she said.
Using social media
The center also offers instruction on how to use social media, as well as exercise classes.
Active Scotia-Glenville Senior Center members play pickleball, participate in golf leagues and take photography trips to scenic spots.
Gloria Blum, a volunteer at the center, has a way of convincing people they’ll have a good time at the center.
“We just whip out the newsletter and say, ‘Look at all these fun activities for people of all ages,’ ” she explained.
“There’s lots of new friends to be made and activities to keep you young and healthy and mentally stimulated.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @KellydelaRocha.