Tai Chi classes, fashion shows and trips to the North Shore. What may seem like a twenty-something’s weekend lineup is really what the Eden Prairie Senior Center is offering its visitors.
And it’s not alone. As the demographic for senior centers begins to stretch from ages 55 to 100—with essentially two separate generations of “seniors”—the Eden Prairie Senior Center isn’t the only local center to tailor its monthly programming to fit a younger crowd. “Although we have mostly daytime offerings, we make an effort to target those who are younger or still in the working population by offering evening classes, weekend trips and special events for those with commitments during the daytime,” says Joan Seedorf, recreation coordinator with Chaska parks and recreation for The Lodge at Chaska Community Center.
The Lodge, which has removed “senior” from its vocabulary—they call their visitors “active older adults”—offers a diverse mix of programming, from classics like bingo and cribbage to active learning which includes fitness classes and educational sessions. And while they’re making adjustments to their calendar, they’re also looking into new ways to communicate to their new guests. “The younger generation is more familiar with tools like social media and websites,” Seedorf says. “Because of this, we will increase our marketing efforts by adding things like e-newsletters, texting and Facebook posts to reach this generation.”
For Sue Bohnsack, recreation supervisor at the Eden Prairie Senior Center, serving two generations of seniors is all about understanding the wants and needs of its visitors through research and outreach—as well as a little trial and error. “I have an advisory council that goes out and researches what other senior centers are doing,” Bohnsack says. “We’ll then talk about topics of interest, and if we learn of something new that we think would be cool, we work it into the schedule.”
To appeal to the younger senior, there is a biking club, a pickleball group, a walking club and trips that cover a wide variety of interests, such as theater and sightseeing. “For new seniors, it’s shorter, one-day type things. They want the immediate, fulfilling ‘now’-type activities,” Bohnsack says. “Instead of an eight-week history class, it’s a one-day class, condensed into three hours.”
For the older senior, it’s a place to socialize, play cards, go on day trips and take educational courses. “Age is a state of mind. If there is a program of interest, they’ll come,” says Sue Bill, senior center coordinator for the Chanhassen Senior Center. “If we offer a variety, they can pick and choose what they want to come to.”
And while the creative programming may appeal to a broader audience, the language associated with senior centers may dissuade some younger seniors from joining in on the fun. “During our research process for The Lodge, we learned that many centers were no longer favoring the term ‘senior,’” Seedorf says. “It was from the very start that we decided to use the words ‘active older adults’. We also felt strongly about not using the ‘senior’ label in our building name—the result was The Lodge.”
Like The Lodge, many other senior centers have begun questioning the language they use when communicating with visitors, but would like to instead change the stigma that can be attached to the word “senior.”
“We’re not looking to change the name because we’d like people to understand that it’s education, [and] not education for seniors,” Bohnsack says. “It’s recreation, not senior recreation.”
As senior centers grow in numbers, as well as in the breadth of programs and activities offered, current trends predict future senior centers will offer programming with a heavy emphasis on fitness, coupled with educational courses. “People are staying active longer,” Seedorf says. “They are able-bodied, willing to try new things, and making good healthy choices. The result is that they are living longer and able to participate in our programs for many years.”