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Sep 5

Senior Center Month helps promote active lifestyles – Herald Palladium

This is not your grandparents senior center.

That is the message that many centers here and around the country are conveying during National Senior Center Month in September.

If I could dispel one notion it would be that senior centers are for old people, said Kathryn Ender, director of the Greater Niles Senior Center, who prefers to refer to the sites as activities centers. We have a lot to show people.

As baby boomers begin to retire, they are looking for ways to stay active and involved, and are finding their local senior centers are a good place to start, according to Cindi McLaughlin, director of the St. Joseph-Lincoln center.

In the last quarter, her location saw a 45 percent increase in participation in exercise classes and a 35 percent uptick in overall attendance, McLaughlin said. Some exercise classes draw up to 70 and 80 people at a time. The center maintains a database of 3,100 names and sends its monthly newsletter to 2,100 addresses.

In fact, the demand is growing so much that the St. Joseph-Lincoln site is looking at expanding its building, and has been working with Andrews University students to review ideas, such as an outdoor walking track, McLaughlin said.

Ender said the Niles center sends newsletters to 4,000 residents, and sees an average of 100 people a day come through the door.

Berrien County has seven senior centers supported by tax dollars: Benton Harbor-Benton Township, Buchanan, Central County in Berrien Springs, North Berrien in Coloma, and River Valley, along with St. Joseph-Lincoln and Niles. Residents who are 60 or over, or who have a spouse over that age, are eligible to join.

McLaughlin agreed that there is a misconception that the centers are places where people sit around and play bridge and bingo. Those popular activities are still enjoyed, but they are the tip of the iceberg as to what is offered, she said.

A lot of people dont realize what we have here, McLaughlin said. A lot of people dont even know we exist.

Programs that help members stay fit and flexible are increasingly in demand. Along with daily exercise sessions, theSt. Joseph location added a full circuit weight room in April.

Member Phyllis Herod said the exercise classes help her stay active in her daily life.

If you dont use it, you lose it, Herod said.

Along with the exercise classes twice a week, Herod participates in the Stitch and Chat group. She admits that its probably more chat than stitch, as the members create colorful crocheted items that are sold to help support programs. Herod also takes part in a quilting group, a book discussion group and volunteers at the front desk four days a week.

McLaughlin said that with only six paid staff, the center greatly relies on its senior volunteers to keep things running. It employs 31 volunteer drivers that transport members to and from the center, as well as medical and other appointments.

The transportation service is probably one of the programs best-kept secrets, McLaughlin said. The center has a Friendship Garden raised beds that members maintain

The center also offers day trips to Chicago for theater performances and baseball games, along with overnight excursions such as Mackinac Island and as far away as Cape Cod. They even have a mystery trip, where the destination is kept secret.

Ender said she has worked with older residents for 30 years, and has seen a shift toward requests for more dynamic activities among newer members.

At Niles, that has included yoga, line dancing, cardio drumming and zumba exercises. Some county centers offer Tai Chi.

Ender said the centers are sources of reliable information that residents need as they get older. The Niles location provides assistance in enrolling in Medicare, as well as advice on filing taxes and applying for Social Security benefits.

Many people just come to socialize, McLaughlin said. Her center has even seen romances and marriages spring up.

Participants can learn lessons in positive aging from longtime members.

Arden Pridgeon, 93, attends the St. Joseph-Lincoln center, located in a former elementary school on Lincoln Avenue that his four children attended. He calls it his second home, where he takes part in exercise classes three days a week, and a walking club two days a week.

That pace apparently gives Pridgeon, a decorated World War II veteran, the motivation and energy to continue his other activities outside the center, which include the Lions Club, serving as a founding board member with Lest We Forget and assisting with Hospice for Veterans. This year he received theMargaret B. Upton Volunteer Leadership Award.

Josephine Smith began attending the St. Joseph center after she retired as administrative assistant for the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Waste Water Treatment Plant. Her doctor recommended that she exercise every day.

I thought no way, Smith said, but now she goes from one class to the next.

Its a great place to be, Smith said. Come and see and do what you can.

The theme of the National Council on Agings Senior Center Month is Masters of Aging. The organizations website points out that 76 million baby boomers have been given an unprecedented gift of health and time; but to a great extent, older adults do not make the most of this phase of life.

The council offers an Aging Mastery Program designed to encourage behaviors that lead to improved health, stronger economic security, enhanced well-being, and increased societal participation.

In recognition of Senior Center Month, McLaughlin said her location is conducting a survey of its members on how participation has had a positive impact on their lives and how they have been enriched, engaged, enlightened and empowered.

Three winners will have their comments recognized, she said.

Ender said her center doesnt have anything in particular planned to recognize the month, and will just continue to grow and adapt to meet the needs of its members.

Here every month is senior center month, Ender said.

Information on the Aging Mastery Program is atwww.ncoa.org.

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Senior Center Month helps promote active lifestyles – Herald Palladium

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