The name "senior citizens center" brings mixed reactions from the elderly. There are older persons who say they want no part of it, and there are others who make a center an important part of their lives. Still others seem indifferent, perhaps because they are unware of the programs and services provided.
A number of centers are in operation in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties. Some are open only a day or two each week and share facilities with other agencies; a few are open daily and may include special weekend events.All are designed, judging from their programs, to provide enjoyment, to extend needed services and to offer challenges.
Major centers in Montgomery County are in Silver Spring, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area and Rockville. Other centers, open only on specified days of the week, are in more thinly populated areas or in housing complexes like Holly Hall or Arcola Towers. There is also a facility at the Jewish Community Center on Montrose Road in Rockville.
The programs and activities of all the county-operated centers appear in Senior Citizens Highlights, published monthly by the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. This publication is available at all senior centers, at some of the public libraries or by direct mail. For more information call 468-4168.
It takes personal visit to get a picture of what goes on at a center. On a recent Monday 100 or more seniors were involved in activities at the Forest Glen Senior Center. Several people were relaxing in the lounge; others were in the library. At several tables in the snack room informal visiting was going on. Down the hall about a dozen seniors, mostly men, congregated in the pool room, playing, waiting a turn or just watching. Farther along is the arts and crafts studio where some 15 or 20 men and women were busy drawing in water colors under an instructor's supervision.
In another part of the building card games were in progress and a quilting group was at work. The board of directors was holding is regular meeting. Earlier in the day there had been tennis instruction and exercise to music.
Some activities occur only occasionally or on designated days. Mini-trips to museums, galleries or other places of interest are scheduled about once a week; paralegal counseling is scheduled every Thursday; free blood pressure checks take place on the second and fourth Fridays of the month. Various classes are held on different days of the week. Sing-alongs are scheduled for alternate Fridays, and bingo is the Wednesday evening activity. Many of the scheduled activities are offered without charge. Some, like instructed classes and trips, have a small fee.
An observer would hardly guess that even regular participants were ever reluctant about attending. One man told of "looking in" three of four times before staying to participate. One woman said that she was reluctant at first, but joining an art class made the difference.
"For someone 75 years of age it is easier to just stay at home," she said. "But it is much better to get out now and then, to become involved and to make new friends."
Center director Barbara Dahlman said that participation follows individual interests or circumstances. Some seniors come almost every day, others only for special events like mini-trips or longer excursions. Some become involved in a range of center activities while others come for a special game of bridge or a specific class only.
Prince George's County has 12 senior activity centers open to all county senior citizens. Bus transportation is available. Most centers are open one day a week, scheduled in such a way that something is open every day, Monday through Friday. Programs include games, crafts, dancing, woodcarving, sewing and needlepoint.
There is a center in Brandywine, known as the Rural Senior Center, that is open five days a week and welcomes all county seniors. This center offers programs in crafts, games, dancing and physical fitness. Other programs can be expected to follow as interest develops. This center is also a nutrition program station where hot meals are served at noon to all who make an advance reservation. More information about this center can obtained by calling 782-7027.
Information about the centers is given in The Senior Citizen, a large print monthly newspaper for Prince George's County elderly. The publication is available by subscription for $2 per year. Information about any of the senior activity centers or about any matters of concern to seniors in Prince George's County is also available by calling the Department of Services and Programs for the Aging, 350-0650.