Columbia Area Senior Center Sees a Decrease in Participants

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COLUMBIA - Many senior citizens find that staying active as they age is not such an easy task. A United Health Foundation's 2013 overview reported more than 60 percent of senior citizens in Missouri are physically active.

The Columbia Area Senior Center is one place that offers a wide variety of activities and classes for Columbia residents. There are 19 different classes on the schedule including an exercise class, Tai Chi and Zumba, that the center added into its lineup in October. There is also a pool table room, a library where people can rent and donate unwanted books, a cafeteria and tables for people to play card games.

The president of the Board of Directors of the Columbia Area Senior Center, Jan Palmer said the center has many activities on the weekends as well.

"We've had a silent auction, we have dances twice a month for the senior citizens, those are usually on Saturday. We have some dinner theater that we offer," she said.

There are also several activities for each holiday like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Even with all of these amenities the center has to offer, there has been a significant decrease in money from fundraisers and the number of people coming out. The senior center doesn't receive any money from the government and has to raise all the money on its own with fundraisers and various garage sales. Palmer said the center prides itself on this and continues to come up with various ways to raise more money.

Office Manager Darlene Richardson said many of the people who used to come are either in nursing homes, have passed on or are unable to drive. Palmer also said gas prices and bus pass fees are two more reasons why people haven't been able to come to the center as much.

One major problem the center has seen is the lack of participation with the baby boomer generation in Columbia.

"This new generation, I don't know what their problem is, they don't want to participate like the other generations that's passed. Baby boomers should be taking advantage of the activity center but they don't want to think they're old," said Richardson.

Palmer also agrees with the lack of enthusiasm with this generation.

"What we're finding is people don't like to use the term senior and they don't know quite what we are at times, they might think that we're a nursing home or I've had lots of people ask me if we have any rooms available thinking that this is a nursing home and it isn't, it's an activity center," Palmer said.

A senior who uses the center, Helen Grahl said before coming to the center 10 years ago, she noticed it happening in her home town as well.

"The things that I was involved in there, we had trouble getting new people to come in, the younger people that we wanted," she said.

The decrease in money has not affected the activities and classes the center offers. The center chooses to save on other things like on its lunches. Richardson said the center will offer only half of the salad bar one day and the other half the next day instead of putting everything out each day to try and save money.