Senior Center success: So busy, they're carding
By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 8, 2013 1:46 PM
Pat Grady, right, goes over different types of special shoes made for diabetics with Alice Atkinson, left, during a health fair held at the Wayne County Senior Center Thursday morning. The annual fair featured more than 30 booths from local health and medical companies offering information about their programs.
Anyone trying to get into Wayne County's exclusive, and free, new hot spot had better be prepared to show some identification -- proving that not only are they at least 60 years of age, but that they are Wayne County residents as well.
The new requirements are because of the number of people younger than 60, or who live outside the county, who have been trying to sign up to use the county's new Senior Center.
When the center opened last November, Wayne County Services on Aging director Eryn McAuliffe had been hoping to see an increase in participation.
"I would have been happy with another 50 to 100 people," she said. "I was worried that I wouldn't get that. We have gotten it. It makes me think of that movie line, 'If you build it, they will come,' and they are coming.'"
Since the Peggy M. Seegars Senior Center opened on East Ash Street more than 500 new people have signed up to participate at the center, which is only open to Wayne County residents age 60 and older. Membership now stands at close to 700 or more.
"In the other (older center) building, I would go out and do talks," Ms. McAuliffe said. "What I would tell people is that I felt like the nerdy high school kid that nobody wanted to invite to the party. Now that we have moved in here, I am one of the cool crowd. Everybody wants to come, and everybody wants to invite me to the party.
"We never had to check and see if people were truthful before to come to the center because we were thrilled and wanted everybody. We still want everybody, but we have to limit it to the county. We started noticing that when we were doing the intakes, so many people were coming and some addresses were questionable."
Some of her staff recognized the addresses as being out of county.
"I know of at least five to 10 cases myself, and I am sure that I don't know all of them because my staff would do the intakes. They were getting mad like, 'Well, my county doesn't have something like this. I am 60, and I ought to be able to come.' We say that we are sorry and that this for Wayne County residents 60 and older."
There is no bouncer to enforce the rules, she jokes.
"They just leave," she said. "When we explain it to them they leave. They are not happy, but they leave. They are polite enough. They just feel they ought to be able to come because they are a senior. But then I am having some that are not seniors."
Ms. McAuliffe said one thing she had been hoping for with the new center was to dispel the idea that being a senior citizen was a negative thing.
"Why does it have to be a bad thing to be 60?" she said. "Now some seniors, I hope, will feel like, 'I am 60 now, and I can go to the center.' I have had people who say, 'I am 58. Why can't I come? I am almost there.' That is why we are having to look at date of birth. It is great."
Ms. McAuliffe said she had never thought of either issue before the new center opened. Instead she was asking herself about making it work because the county had invested so much into the facility.
She said the county commissioners and County Manager Lee Smith should be commended for their far-sightedness in building the center because of the county's aging population. It is estimated that by 2020 more than 26,000 people county residents will be 60 or older, she said.
She attributes the growth to senior citizens talking to other senior citizens who use the facility.
"I have this program called 'My Senior Center,'" she said. "Seniors swipe in. It is like a grocery swipe card, scanning card. So once they are a member they swipe in. They just touch the screen to say what they are going to do for the day. That is how I can get some of my statistics."
On March 5, 2012, 63 different senior citizens visited the old center location. On March 12 of this year, the number had jumped to 167. In January 2012, 167 different senior citizens visited the old center compared to 360 this past January.
"That is a big difference," she said. "That shows you the growth."
The 360 figure is probably on the low side since it does not include people who are not registered to use the center, but are there for other programs such as classes through Wayne Community College, the bridge group or line dancing class, she said.
"So I would guess it is more like 450 different people coming into the center during the month," Ms. McAuliffe said.
Also, because of the larger facility, more parking, and more people volunteering, the center has been able to add new programs, Ms. McAuliffe said.
"I now have bridge group, bridge lessons, billiards lessons, hot yoga, tai chi," she said. "We have a gift shop. We have something called 20-20-20 exercise. That is 20 minutes of cardio, 20 minutes of flexibility, 20 minutes of stretching.
"We gave a senior group now, the Sassy Seniors social club. We can teach people the fitness equipment. We have recreational cards, table tennis, corn hole. In April, we are adding indoor shuffleboard, zumba and night-time bingo. Once the weather gets better, we will utilize our park area. So people are coming to me wanting to be part of this, wanting to give back, and it has just been wonderful."
The new center offers extended hours and is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. On Wednesday, it is be open from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
The center has a computer lab, an arts and crafts room, exercise rooms, commercial grade kitchen, offices for other agencies that work with senior citizens, and a respite care program.
A walking trail and picnic tables have been added to a nearby fenced-in park-like area. Horseshoe pits and raised garden beds are planned for that area, too.