Something for everyone at area senior centers

As Anoka County’s population ages, senior centers in the county will be asked to provide a wide variety of services to a diverse population.

Tom Mattson works on a piece during a woodcarvers gathering at the Blaine Mary Ann Young Senior Center. Photo by Kelly Johnson
Tom Mattson works on a piece during a woodcarvers gathering at the Blaine Mary Ann Young Senior Center. Photo by Kelly Johnson

In 2005, Anoka County had a total of 58,028 residents age 55 and older, with the vast majority age 60 to 64. By 2035, there will be 132,480 residents age 55 and older, with a sharp increase in the number of seniors ages 80 and older.

The changing demographics will mean those in charge of senior centers countywide will need to plan a number of activities and services to meet the needs of a growing and changing population.

Senior centers today offer meals, activities, trips and health care information to those coming through their doors.

To keep seniors engaged in the activities, many senior centers look to volunteers to plan and coordinate activities.

Ownership in activities

Volunteers are the lifeblood of Coon Rapids Senior Services.

“It’s amazing,” said Kris Niebler, program specialist for Coon Rapids Senior Services. “It’s all volunteer led. They [the seniors] actually have more ownership in it [the senior center].”

Volunteers are recruited and trained to lead many of the organization’s programming, from senior dining to organizing trips and card games.

At the Mary Ann Young Senior Center in Blaine, volunteers are also key to keeping programming relevant to the seniors’ interests.

More than 100 volunteers recorded over 6,042 hours, according to Shelley Johnson, center director.

Darlene Otness and Donna Weber tally up the numbers as they play a game of Plinko. File photo by Sue Austreng
Darlene Otness and Donna Weber tally up the numbers as they play a game of Plinko. File photo by Sue Austreng

“Volunteers are huge,” she said. “Most of our programs are run by volunteers.”

When Niebler began working at Coon Rapids Senior Services 16 years ago, there were six employees, arranging programing and providing transportation for those who needed it.

Today, more programming is offered and more seniors are taking advantage of the organization’s offering; however, there are just two employees.

Volunteers have grown from 231 in 1998 to 406 in 2011, putting in some 31,725 hours helping plan and run activities at the senior center.

Besides helping the senior centers offer more programming with limited resources, volunteering is rewarding for the seniors as well.

“They want to use their skills,” Johnson said. “They want to feel needed.”

The number of volunteers in Coon Rapids has grown and the number of participants in activities there is also on the rise.

In 1998, there were 1,916 individuals attending activities hosted by Coon Rapids Senior Services. In 2011, that number rose to 4,214. Many of these individuals attend numerous activities and events at the senior center as well.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” Niebler said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

Space is limited in Blaine as well.

“We book as much in here as we possibly can,” Johnson said.

The Blaine facility, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in August in its present location, serves about 100 seniors a day.

To meet the needs of seniors, Johnson said the senior center often partners with area organizations to offer events off-site, including a senior bowling event a Brunswick Zone in Blaine.

Growing in age and numbers

Not only is there a rise in the number of visitors to Coon Rapids Senior Services, Niebler said there is a wide age range for those individuals as well, from 55 to 105.

“We have several 95-year-olds,” she said.

That makes planning a variety of activities a must.

“It’s really hard to please everybody,” Niebler said.

“Our key is to diversify programming. We want to provide for all ages.”

According to Niebler, the younger seniors come to the senior center with a purpose, like attending a specific program or trip. These seniors often travel to different senior centers throughout the area, depending on what activities meet their interests.

For Johnson, it doesn’t matter where they go, “I just want to see them active and busy,” she said.

Niebler said technology is also key for those younger seniors. That’s why Coon Rapids Senior Center makes information available online at places such as Facebook.

In Blaine, activities are scheduled for the evening and weekends to meet the needs of seniors who might still be working and not able to attend activities during the day.

The older seniors, according to Niebler, often come for the meal and stay for other activities offered throughout the day.

Often the senior center is a social outlet for these seniors, offering companionship as well as information and activities.

“The social aspect is huge,” Johnson said.

That’s a sentiment echoed by Vern Walentiny, who visits the Mary Ann Young Senior Center for woodcarving and other activities.

“It’s a social outlet for me,” he said.

Anoka County senior centers and clubs:

• Andover Senior Center, 1685 Crosstown Blvd. N.W., Andover, 763-767-5163

• Anoka Senior Center, 1500 Sixth Ave. S., Anoka, 763-576-4661

• Blaine/Mary Ann Young Senior Center, 9150 Central Ave. N.E., Blaine, 763-786-9375

• Coon Rapids Senior Services, 11155 Robinson Drive N.W., Coon Rapids, 763-767-6473

• East Bethel Senior Center, 2241 221st Ave. N.E., East Bethel, 763-434-9036

• Ham Lake Senior Center, 15544 Central Ave. N.E., Ham Lake, 763-434-0455

• Oak Grove Senior Center, 19900 Nightingale St. N.W., Oak Grove, 763-753-1920

• Ramsey Senior Center, 15050 Armstrong Blvd. N.W., Ramsey, 763-441-7841

Kelly Johnson is at [email protected]