Special Reports

Senior centers offer recreation and fellowship

For seniors, the key to staying engaged is recreation and fellowship with others, community leaders say. Several cities in the county are having success with senior center programs, where many boomers and seniors are volunteering and participating in classes and fun activities.

The city of San Luis Obispo Parks and Recreation Department, for example, has gourmet cooking classes for boomers and a softball league for those 50 and older. A dance class will start this fall.

There are also monthly health and wellness seminars, and a hiking and camera club. The City Council recently approved funding to build a parking lot behind the city’s Senior Center in Mitchell Park downtown and is in the process of remodeling the center’s kitchen. A study to determine if there’s a need for a new center has been put on hold for now due to budget constraints, said Sheridan Bohlken, recreation supervisor for seniors and teens. “It’s still on the horizon, but it has not been put into action at this time,’’ she said.

At the Central Coast Senior Center in Oceano, seniors play bingo, bridge, pinochle and other card games, get health screenings, have potlucks with friends or go on monthly bus trips to San Luis Obispo, Cambria or Morro Bay. The center, the only one between San Luis Obispo and Nipomo, is an important link for people who crave frequent social interaction, said president Betty Milne. Its 200 members come from Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach and Oceano.

With limited funding (the center relies on private donations, fundraisers and membership dues), Milne said it can be difficult to keep the center going. She would like to expand programs and services, and increase participation, however.

“Bill Gates’ partner (Paul Allen) at Microsoft adopted senior centers in the state of Washington,’’ she said. “It would be nice if someone would come forward and do something like that.”

In Paso Robles, locals can find everything from free tax preparation assistance, legal counsel and referrals for in-home care to woodworking and arts and crafts at the city’s senior center.

The six-year-old center operates on an activities budget of about $18,000, with the city taking care of the building and staffing, said director Linda Holt.

“It’s really one-stop shopping,’’ she said. “We have a vision for the future to see it expand to a complete fitness center. That’s the biggest trend in aging. Just because a person turns a certain number doesn’t mean they have to stop moving.”