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Jane Giddan and Ellen Cole Headshot

Are You Ready for a Senior Center?

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New to town, eager to meet people and explore new activities in my post-retirement era, I searched the local newspaper for clues to previously unexplored terrain. When I saw listings for the local Senior Center I paused, but didn't feel "ready" to acknowledge that my 72 years would certainly qualify me as a member. Although I knew I was chronologically old enough to join in activities for seniors, my mind held images of lost, sad, lonely folk with nowhere else to go. My imagination held me back.

I've read that over the last century we have gained, on average, an extra 30 years of life. Maybe I'll take a peek, I thought, as I drove to one of the suburban centers nearby. Perhaps try a single oil painting class, to see if that's an option for this uncharted time ahead.

My worst fears fell by the wayside. I actually experienced a painless, and rather pleasant, entry into what quickly reminded me of summer camp. Men and women, roughly of my age group, and many in their fifties, entertained themselves at an array of activities in a comfortable, well-equipped center. Food, sports, arts, crafts, music, languages, cards, and mahjongg -- you name it. Want to travel? Just sign up. Want to take responsibility for running the place? Volunteer. Offer charitable assistance in the community, along with others? No problem. Sing? Dance? Exercise? Socialize? Just check the monthly calendar. What was I afraid of?

I gave myself permission to be a dabbler in my eighth decade. My mother always told me that the various pursuits of my youth would forever be a part of me. She predicted that all those lessons would pay off some day. As an adult, I would certainly have a full menu of things I could do. Piano... Guitar... Dance... Sports... Maybe the time had come to cash in those childhood chips.

Do all the local townships provide the same options? Now I explored my own village. Well, look at that. A room full of eager, energetic ping-pong players... and a volunteer instructor! Right up my alley. We have a new ping-pong table at home, but there's no one to play with until my grandkids come to visit.

Sign me up; I have lots to learn. "If you want to continue to play ping-pong," said the instructor, "you can use the strokes you have. But if you want to get involved in table tennis, you'll have to learn some new ways to hit that ball." No more whole arm swings. Bent elbow and body torque for the forehand and wrist action straight from the belly for that backhand. OMG. Can my brain change such old habits? We'll see.

When I told my young chums at work about my oil painting and ping-pong adventures, I still felt embarrassed to mention the words "Senior Center." I said "Recreation Center" at first. Then I admitted the truth, as I looked for signs of disdain in their eyes. What is the stigma even I feel about that label? Do Senior Centers have a bad rap? Do others envision decrepitude at the mention of those words? Maybe yes. There are so many reasons for that to change. Check out your local Senior-Activity-Recreation Center. When you visit and join that community of friendship, you'll appreciate what I discovered.
Jane Giddan and Ellen Cole host a blog at especially for women at, near, or thinking about life in their 8th decade. We invite you to check it out.