The Other Side of 50

Senior center staffers, members debunk stereotypes

By From page OSF4 | June 12, 2014

VACAVILLE — At 53, Jacqueline Medina is one of the young ones at the McBride Senior Center in Vacaville.

But age is irrelevant when spending time with friends gabbing, gossiping, eating and doing some knitting and crocheting – as she does on a regular basis. Every two weeks, she takes a half day off work and joins the women at the McBride Center, creating with yarn and nonstop talk.

“I really enjoy the group,” Medina said. “I learn a lot from them.”

Medina has been coming for three years and is within the age group – give or take a decade older – that is most difficult for senior centers to capture. That is true for a variety of reasons, some of it having to do with stigma and misconception.

While Audrey Calder, the recreation coordinator at McBride, said 50-somethings attending senior center activities isn’t completely unusual, there is notion that activities come complete with walkers and wheelchairs. She quickly debunks the notion that senior centers “smell bad.”

“That’s a misconception,” she said, laughing with one of her volunteers, Mahin Yazdgerdi.

Sandra Reece-Martens, the assistant community resource director at the Fairfield Senior Center, said the story is pretty much the same at her location, with more of the seniors being, “on the older side of the age bracket,” from about age 65 and older.

“We’ve captured that demographic decently,” she said of the Fairfield location. “The younger demographic, I think there are several factors at play there. People are still working and the (majority of meetings) meet during the day time when people are at work. It’s difficult to catch that part of the demographic that is still working.”

She said not many of the groups and clubs meet during the day. Being private, they’re driven by the schedules they want to keep.

Reece-Martens also said the stereotype of who is and isn’t a senior comes into play. She said even 70-year-olds who haven’t come to the center yet are saying, “I’m not old.”

For those in the McBride knitting group, it’s not about age or a “senior” label, it’s about friendship and finding people with like interests.

“I do a lot of knitting and crocheting and I knew I didn’t want to do it alone,” said Mary Jean Knowles. “It’s a good place to be.”

Knowles, 85, leads a book group and belongs to several other groups, including a writing group and a group about coping with the aging process.

Indeed, on a recent day the Vacaville senior center was hopping with many activities – along with the knitting group, a large variety attended an exercise group, the pool table was in use and still others sat around tables visiting with their friends. A few also stopped in to pay their utility bills at the front counter. Calder said about 400 seniors pass through the center in the morning with another 200 coming through in the afternoon.

Calder said they are looking at ways to attract younger seniors, and then, importantly, keep them.

Reece-Martens said they see many younger seniors who are interested in their travel programs. The hope is that while they’re at a travel presentation, they will find an interest in one of the other clubs or groups.

“I would encourage people to come down to the center,” she said. “Many people have not visited the center yet and don’t realize the volumes of activities we have. The staff would be more than happy to assist when we get someone new in the door. We’ll show them around the building and give them an activity list . . . if they express an interest, we’ll give them an introduction to the group.”

For more information about the McBride Center, 91 Town Square Place, download a copy of the McBride Megaphone at www.ci.vacaville.ca.us/index.aspx?page=397. For information on the Fairfield Senior Center, 1200 Civic Center Drive, access the Golden Trumpet at www.fairfield.ca.gov/gov/depts/cr/seniors/default.asp.

Senior centers are also located in Suisun City, 318 Merganser Drive, and Rio Vista, 25 Main St.

Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.


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