Centers adapt to demands of active baby boomers

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2011 - 2:28 PM

Newest wave of retirees seeks more exercise programs and recreation opportunities.

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Vincent Sciamone described eagles flying while talking about a trip that members of the Lakeville Senior Center took to the National Eagle Center on Lake Pepin.

Photo: Jim Adams, Star Tribune

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Visitors to Lakeville Senior Center can expect to do much more than drink coffee and play cards.

They can join the "Health's Angels" bicycling club, which hits the road twice a week, sometimes with grandkids along for the ride. They can take yoga classes. They might even join the "Single Seniors" club, which goes on outings that include happy hour gatherings.

"Our programs are changing because of the baby boomers coming in," said Linda Walter, the center's coordinator for the past 15 years. "We need a different mindset to design programs for them as well as older seniors."

The graying of Minnesota is doing more than just filling senior centers. It's forcing them to cater to a generation that's more active and has higher expectations than those of the past.

Many centers are revamping their offerings to meet the needs of savvy consumers, some of whom are using the Internet to find the best programs and centers to join.

"You have to keep them happy or, if not, they will find someplace else that will," said Michele Starkey, Burnsville's senior center coordinator.

Added Walter: "With computers, people look up centers to see what is being offered. They pick and choose where they want to go.

"Boomers are called the 'salad bar generation.' It is nothing to be a member in two or three centers."

Growing programs

At an annual conference of senior service providers in Apple Valley this month, the theme was "Extreme Makeover: Senior Center Style."

Center directors say they are adding exercise, sports and inter-generational activities and tailoring volunteer opportunities to the skills and schedules of their baby boomer members.

About 680,000 Minnesotans are 65 and older now, and that number is expected to reach 950,000 in a decade, then 1.3 million by 2030. Suburbs as well as core cities are gaining seniors as the baby boom generation retires: In suburban Dakota County, for example, the share of residents older than 65 is expected to double from about 7 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2020, then reach 20 percent by 2030.

Many senior centers are already short of space for their growing programs, and some, including those in Farmington and Apple Valley, have moved to larger buildings in recent years.

Many centers collaborate with community organizations to share programs and space, said Amy Moser, seniors program supervisor for St. Paul schools' community education. She said the schools work with religious groups, city parks and others to share senior programs such as golf, canoeing and kayaking.

Lakeville's seniors are lobbying to move into a larger space in a vacant police station. Yoga and UCare aerobic exercise classes are maxed out in the existing center because its largest room holds about 30 and is booked all week, Walter said.

One of those attending the center's twice-a-week aerobics class is Vincent Sciamone, 83. He moved to Lakeville to live with his daughter after his wife died more than a year ago. After having a bite at the center last week, Sciamone said he likes the recently added current-events group that meets monthly to hear and discuss lectures. Sciamone also joined the Single Seniors club, and spoke excitedly about a recent day trip to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

"They had African eagles flying around over our heads," he said. "They had 6-foot wingspans. They went from perch to perch right over our heads."

Evening activities

At the conference this month in Apple Valley, members talked about meeting the needs of retiring boomers.

Cheryl Dragotis, supervisor of older adult activities at the Richfield Community Center, told of collaborating with schools, libraries and day care centers to encourage reading by having seniors stage "Read-a-Story Theater." The seniors write scripts from popular children's books, and perform, with props, dramatic readings for kids in preschool through sixth grade, she said.

Mindy Anderson of Mound's senior center said she has scheduled more evening activities, including hiking and biking clubs, for seniors who still work part-time or volunteer during the day. "Baby boomers want less frequent, shorter classes, because they are busier," she said.

Even the definition of "senior" is changing: At centers such as those in Lakeville and Farmington, the age of eligibility has been lowered to 50.

"Seniors today aren't the way they were 25 years ago," said Walter. "They're more interested in their appearance, their health.

"My exercise classes are just blossoming. Six years ago I had a hard time getting anyone to sign up. Now I have 30 in one class -- and there's a waiting list."

This story previously appeared in the Star Tribune.

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