Playing down ‘senior’ in ‘senior center’ for boomers

Boomers and Bingo don’t necessarily mix.

Senior centers have a new mission. They want to attract people raised on The Beatles, Bob Dylan and that counterculture mantra “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” To succeed, they’ll need to offer more than hot lunches and card games. The East County Senior Center in Monroe is answering the call with a new program called “Boomerang.”

With “Try It Out Tuesdays,” the center’s evening offerings include beer sampling, sushi making, life story writing and sessions on massage, travel and digital photography.

“Our idea was to get the younger set, pre-retirement and people coming up to retirement,” said Cindy Brockhaus, 51, a member of the Monroe center’s board of directors.

She and her husband, Bill Brockhaus, were at the center Tuesday night for a Boomerang program that featured a demonstration on smoking salmon by Adam Hoffman, chef at Adam’s Northwest Bistro &Brewery, and a tasting of Irish beers from Clearview Spirits &Wines.

“Centers are trying to figure out what baby boomers will want, but we still need to address the needs of older people,” Brockhaus said. She added that many boomers are still working.

In 2011, the first of America’s baby boom generation — born between 1946 and 1964 — reached 65, the typical retirement age. For the next 16 years, according to AARP, boomers will turn 65 at a rate of about 8,000 each day.

Senior centers are looking for new ways to lure all those boomers yet still serve the elderly, said Marc Avni, executive director of the East County Senior Center. Traditional offerings at the nonprofit center include lunches every weekday, exercise classes, games, craft projects and outings, he said.

The Monroe center sees about 1,500 people per year, and has 800 paid memberships. Regular members pay $30 annually and extra for classes. Avni and Jacob McGee, the center’s 35-year-old program coordinator, created Boomerang as an answer to the huge demographic tide that’s coming.

“Nobody wants to be identified with being old,” said Avni, 63, whose email tagline is a Grateful Dead lyric, “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me, other times I can barely see.”

“We’re looking toward the future,” Avni said. With McGee and several board members, he created the Boomerang series, with the categories “Taste, Teach, Think, Touch.” Sessions on food and wine, travel and finance, writing and massage are meant to appeal to a generation interested in new experiences.

In 2008, when the first of the country’s estimated 78 million boomers began receiving Social Security retirement benefits, a USA Today article reported that some facilities were taking “senior” out of their names, calling themselves “community centers.”

Mary-Anne Grafton is recreation supervisor at the Lynnwood Senior Center, part of the city’s Parks and Recreation department. With people in their early 60s, Grafton quipped, “we can’t call them seniors unless there’s a discount.”

“I used to think of 50 as the end of the road,” said Grafton, 45. “If we see someone in their 70s today, they’re still young.”

The Lynnwood Senior Center offers many outdoor recreation options. “What we’ve been doing the last five years is very deliberately diversifying our outdoor recreation,” Grafton said. Three levels of hikes are available, very easy to challenging.

Designing one program to suit all senior center visitors isn’t realistic, Grafton said. “We provide programs and services for people 62 to 102,” she said. That’s a 40-year difference. “No one would dream of programming the same thing for 5-year-olds and people almost 50,” Grafton said.

Cheryl Yates, 62, was one of about 20 people at Tuesday’s Boomerang event in Monroe, where chair massage was offered along with food and beverage samples.

Yates is a regular at the East County center. “I’ve been coming about two years for exercise classes. And my husband and I social dance here,” she said. She started using the center after retirement a few years back. “I have met so many people here,” Yates said.

Are we baby boomers really much different from previous generations?

“There’s the myth and marketing of old age, if you do x, y and z, you’ll be healthy and young forever,” Grafton said. “You’ll be healthier, but age happens.”

Programming isn’t easy when one group needs fall-prevention classes and likes playing bridge, and a younger group wants to try a zip-line.

“Boomers don’t play bridge,” Grafton said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Boomers to seniors

The East County Senior Center is serving baby boomers with its “Boomerang” program that includes Try it Out Tuesdays. The 6:30 p.m. Tuesday sessions are $3, or free with a Boomerang membership, $70 per year or $30 for four months of sessions. Upcoming topics are: Life Transitions, March 12; Road Scholar travel speaker, March 19; Massage, March 26; Sake Tasting and Sushi Making, April 2; Legacy Writing, April 9.

Good Health Day: Puget Sound Blood Center will hold a blood drive and the Lions Club will offer free vision, hearing, glaucoma, diabetes and blood pressure screenings 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday at the East County Senior Center, 276 Sky River Parkway, Monroe. 360-794-6359 or www.eastcountyseniorcenter.org

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