Eight thousand Americans turn 65 every day, yet few of them admit to being a “senior citizen.”
That might explain why attendance at senior centers, on average, is dropping around the country.
“Baby Boomers don’t consider themselves old,” said Hermiston Parks and Recreation Director Larry Fetter on Tuesday at the Hermiston Senior Center. Fetter gave a presentation on the proposed new senior center to a group of about 70 people. “They are very active. They take care of themselves and like to learn and explore new things. They may be 65, but they aren’t interested in senior centers.”
As a result, centers are having to re-think how they operate and what they offer in an effort to attract, shall we say, a more mature demographic.
Fetter and the Senior Advisory Group have been visiting senior centers around the region to get ideas on what Hermiston’s new center could offer. The current senior center is located on the Umatilla County Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds – and Farm-City Pro Rodeo – will move to the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center on S. Ott Road in 2016. The existing property has been sold to the Hermiston School District, creating the need for a new senior center.
On Tuesday, Fetter shared the advisory group’s findings. Fetter said centers are focusing less on serving meals these days and more on offering programs and activities.
“There’s an emphasis on health and wellness,” he said. Fetter and the advisory group made visits to centers in McMinnville, Yakima, Richland, Kennewick and Boardman. Many of them have break-out rooms that can be used for multiple purposes.
Hermiston’s new center will be paid for primarily with a $2 million Community Development Block Grant. It will be approximately 8,000 square feet and will be used strictly for activities for people over 50 during its first five years, after which the center would be available for senior center programs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. The center would be available for community uses during all other times.
Some on Tuesday worried that senior citizens might be squeezed out if the center wasn’t designated exclusively for seniors. Fetter said the city is only interested in providing a center for its seniors, but that it makes sense to open the center up to the community – after five years – when it’s not in use by seniors.
Fetter said the advisory group has identified three possible locations for the new center. One is on Fourth Street behind Wal-Mart by N.E. Aspen Drive. Fetter said the property is available for sale.
Another possible site is the old Goodwill building on Hermiston Avenue.
“It’s about the right size and you can do a pretty nice renovation with the amount of money we have,” he said. Fetter added if that site were chosen, they would probably tear out a lot of the parking lot asphalt and put in green spaces.
The third site is on Ridgeway near the former site of Armand Larive Middle School.
“It’s the right size, but it lacks room for expansion,” Fetter said.
Irene Miller, a member of the Senior Advisory Group, said Hermiston’s senior population has been fervent supports of the center over the years.
“We probably get between 30-40 people here for lunch every Tuesday and Thursday,” she said. “We were told in Yakima that if they get 30 people to show up on any given day, that’s a big crowd. And they have a population of more than 80,000.”