by Adriana Carr, MPA
Senior Center Director
Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation
“Age is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been” – David Bowie
As professionals in the fields of recreation, aging and community building our efforts serve a vast range of older adults. Our jobs are driven by our mission to encourage older adults to remain active and social. Fostering an environment where our customers can continually find their potential and grow into their visions of themselves takes inspiration, work and a multi-faceted approach to professional development.
Committing to find inspiration and stay focused on our mission empowers us as professional and subsequently empowers the people with whom we work. There are already a variety of tools available to us. For example, NRPA's January edition of Parks&Recreation focuses on active aging. One article, Older Adults: Exploring their changing demographics and health outlook points to increasing numbers of older adults by M. Jeanne Keller (pp37-39), is a really good read for the recreation professional who works with older adults. This demographic is expected to increase their involvement in “municipal recreation, fitness and wellness programs" when they retire.
For the proactive recreation professional the following four programming models presented in this article provide recommendations to meet this diverse and growing demand. A brief synopsis follows:
Flourish over a cup of coffee
For the younger older adult, implementing a program based on the café model may be the way to boost participant engagement. Expanding on the coffee house concept this model provides opportunities for learning and socializing. According to Keller, this kind of program can increase participation by 57%. A typical visit would start with a cup of coffee and then proceed on to an educational seminar or social event. Some café based programs offer exercise classes as well.
Virtual Senior Programs
Based on the technology model, this approach looks to fill the access gap. Whether for health, economic or transportation reasons not all older adults have the opportunities to reap the benefits that come from being involved in a senior recreation program. Whether it involves establishing a virtual senior center, groups conversations via telephone or computer classes, technology then becomes a medium that helps older adults stay connected to their community.
A Lifetime of Learning
While some may think that learning stops at college, there are an increasing number of retirees who continue to flourish by broadening their horizons through continuous learning. That could mean taking courses in foreign languages, applying for a professional certification, going back for additional formal education or pursuing a new hobby. The research behind lifelong learning model is based on the idea that the brain has a continuous ability to learn. This improves a person’s well-being, self-perception and ability to adapt to change.
Promoting the Dimensions of Wellness
In general, these are programs that address the various facets of humans. Depending on the source, there are either six or seven dimensions of wellness. The goal is to create innovative programs based on active aging research. Partnering with local universities, hospitals, local and state governments are several ways to present evidence based programs that benefit your participants and their changing needs. Some examples include fall prevention programs, fraud awareness, art appreciation and college level courses.
Which model would work with your customers? Please let us know in the comments below.