As the country’s population continues to live longer, more senior citizens try to be active physically and mentally within their communities. Parks, community centers and seniors centers are common areas where seniors go in search of clubs and activities to fill their days with challenges.
Senior programs in parks
Greensboro, N.C., maintains an extensive set of programs for the older demographic at their senior center.
The activities range from yoga and water aerobics to clubs that are dedicated to interests like crafting and hiking. Donation based activities are also available to participate in, such as the community garden where seniors participate in growing food only to donate it to the local food bank. Through the city art department, people can enjoy free Sunday night concerts in the park, which brings enjoyment to those who attend.
“We offer a lot and most of it’s free,” Senior Services Coordinator Jennie Matkins said. “That’s the commitment that we’ve made to our seniors. That says a lot about Greensboro and how they feel about seniors in the community and how they want to serve all incomes and ages.”
In Tampa, Fla., there are a wide variety of fitness basic activities and classes for seniors to participate in multiple senior centers and parks. From dancing to weight lifting to the walking club, it offers the option to stay active. Tampa prides itself on making and maintaining interactive programs available and challenging.
Aside from the large selection of fitness classes and activities, Tampa offers computer classes for seniors to learn the basics from smartphones to navigating the internet. The technology classes keep seniors from falling behind and being lost as times continue to advance. Monthly field trips and the annual senior games are available as well.
“We have very active seniors and getting them out of the house is what we’re trying to do,” explained Site Supervisor Lisa Bryant. “We always try to keep it fresh. Retirement isn’t the end. There’s so much life out there and it’s available if you want it. They’re adults who have lived an accomplished life, so challenge them. Don’t underestimate what they’re capable of doing.”
Program ideas and improvements in the future
From a hiking club that ventures on trails across the county to a walking trail that follows the perimeter of the property, Greensboro’s Smith Senior Center has big ideas for its master plan, which should draw more seniors.
Along with creating a walking trail, the senior center plans to transform tennis courts to pickleball courts, make horseshoe pits and cornhole courts. There are plans to include low-impact exercise equipment near the walking trail, something that many other municipalities have implemented through the nonprofit organization KaBOOM!
While Tampa is the ideal place for retirement, the parks and recreation departments have to be mindful of the heat and the impact it can cause on their seniors’ health. Many of Tampa’s outdoor activities can also be done inside to accommodate for those who find the weather to be too overbearing.
For the future, Tampa plans to build a park where people of all ages can find something to have fun with. It also plans to implement more language classes so seniors can become conversational if they desired. As the years go by and more people retire, more evening classes may be schedule to fit into the lives of seniors. As people are considered seniors at the age of 50, many are still working their full-time jobs, which could cut into the potential to attend activities provided.
The secret to attracting the older generation
Greensboro took the initiative to hire a senior services coordinator to oversee the programs and to implement new ones, resulting in surveys and meetings being held to receive first-hand recommendations from the seniors. Tampa utilizes internet resources to circulate ideas into the programs along with conversing with seniors to gather information on what they’d like to see available.
The success grew from there for Greensboro and its Senior Center Advisory Committee, consisting of seven community senior participants. The committee meets once a quarter and brings forth ideas and concerns, giving input about current programs and thoughts on tweaking them if necessary.
“We do get together as senior center staff and share ideas from across the state,” Matkins elaborated. “We interact with other senior centers to ask about policies as well. We try to make it very participant driven and implement programs that they want to do, that they want to be a part of or take the lead in.
“Some municipalities probably don’t have a designated senior center and money is always an issue but to bring more seniors in, you should really get their input,” Matkins continued. “Just ask them what they want to do. Ask what would make them attend. That’s how we started and what we continue to do. Once you ask them what they want, be ready to implement it. They’ll become very involved and invested because they’ll want to see those programs and current trends be successful.”
Tampa’s primary goal, along with offering seniors challenging and interesting activities, is to keep them engaged and bring them out to make friends with others as their lives continue to be enriched by the resources parks and recreation departments make available for them. Along with retirees, many older folks are away from their families who may live in other states.
Bryant is a chairperson at a monthly senior committee that includes Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation, Hillsborough County Aging Services and the city of Temple Terrace where the latest trends are discussed and ideas are shared. They also observe what is working well with the seniors and what may need some help. The committee is in charge of planning sporting tournaments, socials, monthly dances, implementing new clubs and mini health fairs.
Trial and error may come into play when the parks and recreation department changes a low attendance class to a different day and time. One small alteration could be the step between success and failure. The staff can also propose ideas and looks at what other trends seniors are interested in. Senior center attendance in Greensboro has grown from 2,000 attendees in 2012 to 6,500 attendees in February 2017. Tampa sees an average of 350 attendees a day at the 15 centers that offer senior programming.
“We provide materials and help get them started, then they just take it over,” Matkins concluded. “Several clubs like the crafting club or quilting club will donate their creations to local nonprofit organizations to help others. It keeps them busy but it also lets them give back to the community. They take pride in what they do and share it with others. Our seniors here are just a special group. They love the senior center and they want to see it thrive.”