'Innovative senior centers' offer more to the elderly

May 14, 2012 4:27:09 AM PDT
Forget the days of bingo and cards - New York City now has eight so-called "innovative senior centers" up and running.

The innovations come in the form of new programs that focus on wellness and more challenging activities.

Senior centers used to focus on free meals and socialization for older people, but now, the city is radically changing the way it provides for seniors. And the changes are paying off.

When you walk into the Center for Adults Living Well at the Y in Washington Heights, there is an energetic vibe. The high-tech message board lists the day's activities, and the week's lunch menu, including vegetarian options, is on display. More than 150 freshly cooked lunches are served each day, not cafeteria style, so it feels more like a restaurant.

A computer class is taught to help seniors become more tech savvy, and the exercise programs have changed as well. A supervised cardio class started in January and has grown in popularity.

"I've been here about two weeks now," senior Adelean Jones said. "And I love it."

Participation is way up, system wide, with plenty of new faces.

"We're seeing a younger (group) coming in, because there's exciting things to do," DFTA Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli said.

Elise Richeda's twice-a-week stretch and yoga class is one of the most popular activities at the center. She started teaching at the age of 70 and has been going strong for 30 years. That's right, she's 100 years old.

"(I'll keep teaching) as long as I'm able," she said. "Right now, I have a Sciatica attack, so I'm just hoping it doesn't get worse."

The goal of the innovative senior centers is to make New York City more livable for the city's older adults, whose numbers are expected to grow by 46 percent in the next 25 years.

"We really want to have respect for the wisdom and sageliness of older adults," center director Patricia Cipora Harte said. "They come with a wealth of experience and knowledge, and we want to treat them with respect."

There are two more innovative centers expected to go online in Brooklyn later this year. Officials are hoping that people who haven't been to senior centers will come check out all there is to do.

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