As our senior population grows, so too can senior centers
The United States is undergoing a transformation. Each day, the “graying of America” progresses. This unprecedented demographic shift will have a profound impact upon society and require new thinking and innovation to respond to mounting challenges.
Senior centers across the country are evolving to become agents of change. Moving on from a recreational model to a comprehensive, holistic approach that addresses overall wellness for older adults, the model for a senior center of the future is taking form.
In San Diego County, 1.2 million people will be over the age of 55 by 2030. While this cohort may be lumped into a singular category of “older adults,” such a label overly simplifies the variable needs, interests, and values of a multi-generational senior population. To cater to this diverse audience, successful senior centers will need to create a dynamic environment offering a comprehensive portfolio of services that support all aspects of a person’s wellbeing.
The following are examples of the types of programs and services that will be core elements of a sophisticated, 21st century senior center, many of which are already available in some local communities:
State-of-the-art facilities will be attractive, welcoming and staffed by specialists with expertise in the field of aging. A community’s senior center will be the central hub for its 60-and-over residents—a place where older adults can access programs and vital resources that support their physical, mental, social and financial health.
The Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center in downtown San Diego is a nationally recognized model of integrated services for older adults. The center provides seniors with access to social workers, nurses and support groups, creating a formidable support network for vulnerable older adults who otherwise may have no one to turn to.
Senior Centers will serve as referral centers that provide older adults and their families, friends, caregivers, and neighbors with current and continuously updated information to support healthy aging.
Trained community navigators will help seniors access benefits and services, and utilize vetted resources such as financial advisors, attorneys, and care providers.
Outreach programs will identify socially isolated seniors and elder orphans, connect them with services, and establish rapport to help orient them to the programs and resources available through their local senior center.
Programming will be centered around the unique cultures and identities of senior center users in a given community. Examples include special events, social or religious groups, and celebrations that reflect the diversity of the community.
In National City at the Kimball Senior Center, the Casa de Salud social club sponsors special events, programming and monthly dances for Hispanic seniors, but of course, all older adults of the Kimball senior center are welcomed!
Senior centers will offer programs designed to increase the civic participation of seniors for the good of society. Examples include intergenerational mentorship programs, volunteerism, voter registration drives and other opportunities for seniors to use their skills and experience to engage with their communities.
At the Carlsbad senior center, intergenerational events are a priority. Older adults and young adults have multiple opportunities to share, support and bridge the gap. In March 2020 alone, the center has 6 special events that include technology programming and a Friday Night 70’s dance party as a means of building the bonds of the community by connecting generations.
Facilities will have classrooms where educational programming such as art, music, writing, cooking, language, and other courses can give seniors the chance to learn new skills or hone existing ones.
The LaJolla Community Center offers not one, not two, but three classes so seniors can either brush up or learn anew the languages of Spanish, French and Italian.
A computer lab will offer tutoring and classes to help seniors stay current on new technology, software applications and social media platforms.
The San Marcos Senior Activity Center features a stylish computer lab with over 30 stations for center guests. The lab is supported by volunteer instructors who provide personal tutelage and specialized classes so that seniors can make the most of technology.
Job training will support the growing population of seniors who are still in the workforce and can’t yet afford to retire, or those who have retired and need supplemental income.
Programming designed to appeal to younger seniors (age 60-70), such as field trips, concerts, theatrical performances and other cultural experiences will be available.
The John D. Spreckels Center in Coronado literally steps out of the box with their innovative and fun Trails and Ales program. Each month, older adults venture to one of San Diego’s hiking destinations for a moderate impact exercise that culminates in a lunch at a local eatery.
Expanded transportation options will provide better access to area senior centers and essential services in the community. Programs based in senior centers will supplement public transportation, which is not a complete solution for many seniors.
Senior Centers in Encinitas and Vista support the critical need of providing shuttle service for the congregate meals served at their centers. Also, a volunteer driver program has been implemented to further help seniors in need of transportation for such critical needs as medical services, social engagements and general errands.
Extended operating hours (7 a.m.-9p.m.) will align with active senior lifestyles.
The San Marcos Senior Activity Center has established expanded hours on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to accommodate seniors who may have a work or caregiving schedule that does not allow for business hour visitation.
The senior center of the future model reimagines the purpose these vital community entities play in the lives of local seniors. We are not suggesting that this model is ‘one-size fits-all’ — senior center directors must tailor their menu of services to be the best fit for the communities they serve.
The San Diego Seniors Community Foundation is committed to realizing this vision of senior center transformation in the region. We recognize that philanthropy will be a critical driver to facilitate a county-wide effort to remake, and in some locations, create modern senior centers that will serve our growing population of seniors. And as a community foundation exclusively dedicated to older adults, it is our central focus that philanthropic entities in San Diego come to learn of the needs of our senior population and the impactful community-based solutions that are possible.
To learn more about the current state of San Diego County senior centers, read our report that examines existing infrastructure and options for what is possible in the service of our region’s older adults.