With the passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965, senior centers first gained significant momentum in American society. Nearly 50 years later, senior centers remain an important part of many communities, but must adapt to the changing needs of their customers to provide the best possible service. AARP Louisiana, through a grant from the AARP Foundation and Caesar’s Foundation, produced this report to analyze changes in the senior center model, and provide recommendations for future improvements to these centers.
This report describes changes to senior centers over the past 50 years, and details recommendations on modernizing centers into 21st Century Wellness Centers. In addition to being the largest-ever generation of elderly people, today’s older Americans have needs and interests very different from the previous generation. As such, an effective senior center model includes programs and facilities designed to meet the social, mental, and physical needs of its clients.
Other report highlights include:
- Communities should start by identifying which of the emerging models best fits the unique needs of their communities, and aligning programs and services to facilitate their specific definition of wellness. Those models include:
a. Multi-generational community centers
c. Lifelong learning
d. Continuum of care/transitions
e. Entrepreneurial center
f. The Café program
- While the need to enhance existing programs is increasing, funding for such items is decreasing. With that in mind, communities need to find alternate means of funding their improved centers.
- Recommended policy changes focus on incentivizing innovation and integrating Older Americans Act programs with other national initiatives, including Livable Communities work and healthcare reform.
- In order to ensure continued success, Wellness Centers require thoughtful, intentional governance structure. The report outlines a sample structure that incorporates both participants and community stakeholders into the decision-making process.
One note on this movement towards “Wellness Centers.” We are aware of other efforts to build or create “well-being” programs for older adults. While seemingly only a semantic difference, we think a “well-being” platform better fits the senior center model and allows a more natural modernization and evolution.
How to Use
Community leaders can use this report to evaluate the effectiveness of their senior centers, and begin planning for their evolution into the 21st Century. Using the Hollygrove project in New Orleans as an example, leaders can determine what measures should be taken to best prepare their communities for these changes.