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Senior Centers Evolve to Attract Boomers

This isn't your grandmother’s bingo hall

Senior center of the future?

A new senior center concept gaining attention is Mathers — More Than a Café, located in three Chicago neighborhoods. The draw is a public restaurant open to all ages. In order to take classes or use the other facilities, however, you must be age 55-plus. You pay for classes on a per-course basis and can join the Mather Advantage Discount program, which offers a 20 percent discount on food and classes.

“People have looked at the café concept as a way to attract baby boomers. The décor makes us Starbucks wannabes! It’s modern, and when you walk in, you know there’s something different,” says Betsie Sassen, assistant vice president of Mather LifeWay’s community initiatives. “It doesn’t feel like a place targeting older adults.”

Senior center directors from as far away as Japan and Korea have come to observe the Mathers cafe model, which has been replicated by 30 organizations.

The outreach efforts on the part of senior centers to a younger demographic may be starting to have an effect. “I have a different perspective on aging than I did before,” says Jennifer Powell, 44, vice president for development of the Educational Alliance, which has offices at CBL. “I’m seeing older adults who are physically strong, engaged, comfortable in their own bodies, still working toward goals, and having fun. And then I think, that is my future.”

Also of interest: More Gay-Friendly Senior Housing Needed.

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