Senior center doesn’t think small

  • By Micah Silke, Special to The Herald
  • Wednesday, November 6, 2013 1:03pm
  • LifeLynnwood

They’ve been kayaking, paddle-boarding and zip-lining. They’ve hiked on trails far and wide and cycled 50 miles of Washington turf in one day.

Now, the Lynnwood Senior Center hopes to top it all with a trip that’s sure to soar above all the others: skydiving.

“It’s something a lot of people have on their bucket list,” said Lynnwood Senior Center supervisor Mary-Anne Grafton.

The biggest challenge, she admits, is the cost.

Despite working on a tight budget, the center, located on the Lynnwood Civic Center campus, offers a host of classes, trips and services. Its outdoor recreation program is among the best.

Sure, the activities room fills for games like bridge, Bunco, train and pinochle. But the center also plans five trips a month during the summer, and shorter “backyard” hikes, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during the winter.

“We plan destinations so that people of a two- to three-mile hiking ability can get out. Then we also have the mountain goat trips — we don’t call them that, but you pretty much have to be one,” Grafton said, referring to the long hikes.

Some have elevation gains of more than 2,000 feet.

During the colder winter months, “backyard” hikes feature shorter drives and shorter walks that showcase local trails. The cross-country skiing trips appeal to beginners and experienced skiers alike. Equipment rentals are inexpensive, and first-timers have the opportunity to learn with a group.

Especially popular are new, more experimental trips to wineries and cideries. A recent trip to the Peninsula Cidery filled two buses and left a waiting list of people behind.

“It is very rare that we cancel a trip because of registration,” Grafton said.

Grafton hopes to eventually acquire a third bus, but until then the senior center fills seats by drawing from a lottery on registration days.

Buses aren’t the only things that are filling up. According to Grafton, the 4,200-square-foot facility just isn’t big enough, especially not when faced with what she joins others in calling a “silver tsunami.”

It’s a tsunami of baby boomers fueled by the estimated 10,000 Americans who turn 65 every day.

Nevertheless, the center is up for the challenge, offering about 50 classes, trips and other events a week. It also provides health services such as dental cleanings and assessments, acupuncture and massage therapy.

If the cost is a deterrent, Lynnwood offers a scholarship program. Members who qualify receive a confidential grant that they can use to pay for whatever services they want: dental hygiene, hiking, fitness classes and more.

The Lynnwood location is the only senior center in Snohomish County offering “Stay Active and Independent for Life” classes. SAIL is Washington state’s fall-prevention program.

“Our fitness offerings are extraordinary,” Grafton said. “We are one of the two strongest in Washington state, offering four kinds of evidence-based classes to prevent falls.”

Unlike many senior centers that operate as nonprofit corporations, the Lynnwood Senior Center is a municipal center, funded by taxpayers and governed by the laws of the city of Lynnwood.

The city doesn’t have as much to give as it once did. In 2010, Lynnwood faced a budget disaster. There was a $21 million budget shortfall and cuts were made across the board. The center lost half its staff.

Today, it operates with just three full-time employees. Volunteers surpass paid employees, working as many hours as four full-time employees would.

When tax dollars and volunteers aren’t enough, the center receives help from the Appreciation Fund, a nonprofit organization that provided, among other things, six workstations that comprise the computer lab.

Grafton has embraced the changes needed to offset the lack of funding. On the wall in her office is a button that reads: “But we’ve always done it this way.” The words are neatly enclosed in a red circle and slashed through by a diagonal red line, as if to say, “not anymore.” The center does things differently to make it work.

Rather than isolating older adults in an exclusive senior center tucked away from the rest of society, Lynnwood strives for community inclusion. It offer memberships to those 62 and older as well as associate memberships to those 61 and younger, providing space for young-hearted centenarians and old-soul grandchildren alike.

Outside the senior center building is a community garden, Lynnwood’s first. Its 30 plots are mostly waist-high, so they can be tended while standing up or sitting in a wheelchair. It is an intergenerational garden with an emphasis on healthy food and healthy communities.

Grafton, who typically eschews the term “senior,” preferring “older adults,” can’t resist when it comes to the garden.

“It was built by seniors and seniors,” she said, about 40 people, half older adults and half high-school students, many of them from the senior class. “Imagine watching an 80-year-old man teach a 16-year-old girl to use a power drill.”

Lynnwood Senior Center

19000 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood; 425-670-5050; www.ci.lynnwood.wa.us/PlayLynnwood/Facilities/Seniors.htm.

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