Senior Activity Centers - More than Food and Games

By Michelle Carter
Public Information & Human Relations Manager
West Alabama Regional Commission’s
Area Agency on Aging

     Some attend for the friends. Some attend to get out of their house. Still others attend to save themselves from having to cook. With an ongoing list of reasons, senior activity centers across the West Alabama region are the place for adults aged 60 and better to experience the spice of life.
     West Alabama Regional Commission’s Area Agency on Aging administers 22 Senior Activity Centers throughout our seven-county region. Each center offers weekday lunches as well as a Homebound Meals Program for patrons who are unable to attend a center due to health reasons. Many locations offer transportation to and from the center and additionally to doctor’s appointments, and grocery and drug stores. But wait, there’s even more!
     Senior Activity Centers are open to adults aged 60 and older. Participation isn’t based on income or retirement. Many in the “Baby Boomer” population are continuing to work past age 60, some even past 70. And though the Senior Activity Centers have a large number of attendees that are retired, they also see participants who are still employed. Theresa Hudgins works as a secretary at South Lamar School. She attends the Kennedy Senior Activity Center in the summer with her husband, Leroy, who is retired. “It’s really good for him. It gives him something to do with me working all the time. He hangs out with friends and plays games.” Theresa said. “Compared with their peers, senior center participants have higher levels of health, social interaction and life satisfaction…” according to the National Council on Aging who has named September “Senior Center Month”. In addition to a nutritious meal and friendly game of Bingo, participants at the center can partake in a variety of other interests including, but never limited to, educational programs, volunteer opportunities, field trips, crafting and more.
     “The senior activity center is very dear to my heart.” Helen West, 82, said. West has attended the Woodstock senior activity center since before it began. She and her husband, Alvin, heard about it when it was being formed and signed up a widowed friend they had been caring for. Alvin and Helen continued participating and attending the center. He passed away in June 2017. Helen said her husband’s aim was to see that the center stayed open because so many people don’t have anything to do. Helen continues to attend the Woodstock center each day. “It gets me up and makes me comb my hair and put on clean clothes. Every day I get up and come to the senior center - it’s my own grief therapy.”
     Each senior activity center has a center director to help keep the center running with activities, meals, and other features vital to their success. Cynthia Winegard has been center director at the Brent Senior Activity Center for over five years. “Everyone at the center is more like family to me than a client.” Cynthia said. She added she feels fortunate to get to go to a job every day that she loves. “Being a director at the Brent Senior Center is being able to give the love and respect to people that have made a difference in my life and the lives of so many others.” Cynthia grew up in Bibb County so many of the patrons who visit the center are familiar friendly faces. “Some taught me in school, some lead the community in politics, some were business owners, some were farmers or factory workers, some were stay at home mothers, but all deserve to be treated with dignity, honor and love by myself and others that serve them.”
    Whether it’s a meal, friendship or a chance to volunteer and stay involved in their community, seniors, baby-boomers, wise elders, whatever you want to call them, have found the secret to living and enjoying their later years wrapped up in their local senior activity centers. Larry and Marita Schafer, 76 and 73, have traveled across 48 states but now call Bibb County their home, at least for most of the year. The “winter Texans” said they looked at a map online after Larry retired and found their home base about seven years ago. Four to five months of the year they live in Texas traveling by motor home. The Brent senior activity center was their way to make new friends. “We didn’t know anyone so we figured it’d be a good way to meet people.” Marita explained. “If we hadn’t met such wonderful friends here, we wouldn’t have stayed.”