How to Increase Participation in Senior Centers
Senior center services offer benefits to millions of elderly Americans. Involvement in senior center activities and services promotes health, independence, and a greater sense of inclusion and self worth in older adults. Yet in 2007, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services found that, “nationally less than 10 percent of older adults regularly participate in senior center activities.” Strategies to boost involvement in senior centers include eliminating barriers to participation, providing practical services and varied activities, advertising, and promoting leadership and volunteerism.
Increasing Participation in Senior Centers
Identify and Eliminate Barriers to Participation
Choose a safe, handicap-accessible location near the elderly population. Invite and welcome seniors of various abilities, ethnicities, education and income levels. Offer low-cost or free transportation. Match the center’s hours of operation to seniors’ needs. Recruit seniors to staff the center and run activities.
Negotiate group rates and senior discounts. Cut costs and strengthen senior support networks by sharing resources and cooperating with parks, recreation departments, libraries, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, inter-faith and eldercare organizations.
Encourage elderly from ethnic minorities to participate by hiring bilingual staff. Incorporate foods and activities that reflect diverse cultures and faiths. Encourage seniors to to share favorite dishes, customs and holiday traditions.
Provide Practical Services
Partner with nursing, dental and medical schools/facilities to provide seniors with free or low cost medical services such as hearing and vision screenings and blood pressure checks. Offer meals and/or adult day care services. Arrange for a stylist to provide inexpensive haircuts and manicures at the senior center.
Be aware of and refer seniors to community services such thrift shops, free clinics, food pantries and meal programs. Arrange expert help with taxes, finances, estate and end of life planning and Medicare/Medicaid. Provide information on employment and volunteer opportunities. Offer caregiver support groups with referrals to home and respite care agencies.
Provide Varied Activities
Offer a mixture of passive and active activities catering to the varied interests and fitness levels of seniors ranging in age from 55 to over 90. Include physical exercises like dancing, yoga, Tai Chi, stretching and balloon volleyball. Present health and wellness topics such as early signs of heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s, memory boosting, nutrition and cancer prevention. Offer art, music, crafts, cooking, dance, internet and computer classes.
Record seniors’ life stories on tape, film, or in written memoirs, journals, autobiographies or scrapbooks. Encourage publication and sharing with family and friends. Partner with audiovisual students, professionals and equipment to create TV and radio shows by and about seniors. Organize concerts, variety and gallery shows with artistic and musical entertainment provided by seniors.
Produce a newsletter featuring seniors’ lives. Invite seniors to share and display their work, photographs and hobbies. Honor those who served in the military. Take pictures of senior center events and display them with thanks to participants.
Share stories about seniors active in the world and community. Discuss spirituality and current events. Host cook-offs and contests with cash prizes.
Promote the senior center as a “life-enrichment” or “life-long learning center”. Encourage word-of-mouth advertising and family, friend and community involvement. Post fliers in places seniors live and frequent, such as the grocery, assisted living and senior apartments. Create a website listing senior center activities and services.
Promote Leadership and Volunteerism
Facilitate as seniors design, lead, participate in and evaluate the center’s activities. Before an event, gather input regarding seniors’ interests, needs and what worked or did not work previously. Afterwards, gather feedback about what went well and suggested improvements.
Involve local business leaders, churches, boys’ and girls’ clubs, scout troops and schools in holiday decorating, caroling, dances, concerts, and garden planting. Encourage seniors to volunteer at local libraries, schools, hospitals, after school programs, blood drives, Red Cross chapters and YMCAs.