Senior centers seek a younger image

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Two centers have shut down due to a lack of interest from baby boomers.

By Linda Redeffer ~ Southeast Missourian

Quilting, ceramics and bingo may have appealed to senior citizens when the first senior centers opened in Missouri in 1973, but the centers in Southeast Missouri have found that they need to update their social offerings if they want to attract baby boomers. The Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging has also taken a marketing lesson from McDonald's in an effort to keep the centers up and running.

The 36 centers in 18 Southeast Missouri counties now have combined into a single organization known as OAKS -- Older Adults Keep Serving.

Lana Johnson, nutrition project director for the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, said the oak tree was selected as a symbol because the many branches stand for the many services and activities that take place at the centers. The oak is also a symbol of strength, endurance and growth, she said.

A major reason the centers exist is to provide a nutritious lunch for seniors who might not otherwise eat one. While seniors come into the centers to eat and socialize, some of the meals are delivered to homebound seniors. Others in the community also eat at the senior centers because the food is hot, inexpensive and well-prepared under strict sanitary conditions, Johnson said.

From logo to billboard

Having a recognizable OAKS logo can market those meals beyond the community and increase revenue for the centers.

Eventually, Johnson said, there will be signs along Missouri roads with an OAKS logo on them. Just as McDonald's signs advertise a hamburger restaurant nearby, the OAKS signs will let travelers know there is a senior center where they can stop and eat.

"Now they will be looking for that oak tree sign like you would the golden arches," Johnson said.

Senior centers in Southeast Missouri serve 1.5 million meals a year, which is more meals than served by centers in St. Louis and Kansas City combined. "Yet we only get about 10 percent of the money" Jefferson City spends statewide, Johnson said.

Half the money senior centers get comes from the state based on a formula that factors in population figures, low-income statistics and percentage of minority population. The rest comes from the community, corporate support, donations and fund raisers.

Putting all Southeast Missouri centers under one umbrella organization, Johnson said, will enable OAKS to go after more corporate funding than the centers could attract individually.

In addition to bringing in more baby boomers for lunch, the agency wants to cater to their social interests. Activities that once appealed to seniors don't seem to hold much attraction for baby boomers. Two centers -- in Broseley and Steele -- have shut down due to a dwindling elderly population and lack of interest from younger seniors. Their meal deliveries have been taken over by neighboring centers, according to nutritionist Rhonda Bramlett.

As a result, senior centers are offering different activities to bring in people who have not come before. Some have centered meals and activities around a theme -- a Hawaiian festival or Mexican fiesta.

Other centers offer genealogy assistance, scrapbooking, seminars on Social Security and Medicare, medical services and health and fitness activities. Group trips have proven to be popular. One growing interest is an antiques appraisal service. Some centers try to coordinate activities around community festivals and try as often as possible to work in conjunction with children's organizations.

"We hope the new older consumer will visit one of the OAKS," said Johnson.

335-6611, extension 160

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