Senior Center increases programs, participation for well-being

Almost one year after the World Health Organization declared an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff at the Lebanon Senior Center are finally beginning to see participation back to normal – or even better – numbers.

A sign welcomes visitors to the Senior Center, indicating where activities of the day can be found.

“After reopening it did take time for some seniors to feel comfortable returning to social/public environments; others were chomping at the bit (so to speak),” Senior Services Director Kindra Oliver said. “Some new faces became regulars and some people we hadn’t seen for a while took time to come back to their favorite educational, art/culture and social activities.”

Research shows that older adults who participate in senior center programs can learn to manage and delay the onset of chronic disease and experience measurable improvements in their economic, emotional, mental, physical, social and spiritual well-being.

“We think that the Lebanon Senior Center focus areas play a major role in developing and maintaining healthy habits, keeping seniors moving, keeping seniors learning, keeping seniors playing and helping seniors keep positive,” Oliver said.

While trying to bring the older population back into its social activities, senior center staff began revitalizing or adding new programs, such as Knit & Crochet, Lunch & Learn, Mah Jong, therapeutic garden club and line dancing, as well as more fitness classes.

Oliver said it has taken some time to get participation numbers back up since the pandemic, but they have now surpassed their pre-COVID numbers.

Dave Hetzler and Donna Rose play a tune on their dulcimers during a Dulcimer Group meeting at the Lebanon Senior Center. Anyone interested in learning or playing the dulcimer is invited to meet with others on Mondays and Fridays at 9 a.m. at the Lebanon Senior Center.

“During the closure, we took some time to evaluate the programming we had been offering and developed some new goals with each of our focus areas as we were able to reopen our building to the public,” she said.

One of their goals was to increase the number and diversity of available exercise programs, taking into account that many seniors had been asking for instructor-led classes. Senior Center staff looked at a variety of exercise programs that had a track record of improving the well-being of older adults, Oliver said. With some recent grant funding, they implemented a few “evidence-based” programs that are reported to improve balance, flexibility, strength, overall outlook and other health-related benefits when followed at least twice a week for 45-60 minutes.

“The growing attendance and popularity of the exercise programming has been one of the biggest areas of growth coming out of the pandemic,” Oliver said. “They haven’t just bounced back, they have soared past pre-COVID numbers.”

Currently the Senior Center offers the following evidence-based fitness programs:

Community members participate in a Strength & Flex class at the Lebanon Senior Center.

Strength & Flex (A Geri-Fit Program): A gentle strength training class that can help improve balance and stability. An instructor leads participants using weights, gravity and resistance in a seated or standing position. Monday and Wednesday from 1-1:45 p.m., and Friday from 10-10:45 a.m.
Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance (NEW): A 26-week alternative exercise training program proven to reduce falls by improving balance, ankle strength and balance recovery through controlled, repetitive movement. Information session on Thursday, Feb. 22, from 9-10 a.m. Class starts Feb. 27 every Tuesday and Thursday from 9-10 a.m.
Bingocize!: Bingo mixed with some low-impact exercise, designed to build strength, flexibility and balance. Monday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Walk with Ease:  A program proven to reduce pain and discomfort, and increase balance, strength and walking pace. Build confidence in being physically active. Improve overall health. Starts in March or April, depending on participation interest.

In addition to some of the new programs, oldies but goodies have remained and returned to normal participation numbers, including bingo, card games, secret pals, social games and wood carvers.

Ben Wadlow, left, enjoys spirited conversation while Dan Morlan, right, selects a tool for his carving project. In the foreground is a walking cane hand carved by Morlan.

Wood carver Steven Walker said their group would like to encourage younger generations to join them during their weekly get-togethers (Wednesdays at 9 a.m.), noting that they will need to bring their own supplies. Al Holland, who’s been carving with the group for about 20 years now, said it’s a nice activity to do for his retirement years, but it’s also about enjoying the company of friends.

The group can be found enjoying robust conversation and laughter. They noted that they call themselves carvers or maybe even chippers, but they snubbed their nose at the term “whittling.” Sometimes what they do can be called “butchering,” one jested, while another said “sculpturing” is for more sophisticated work.

Across the hallway, the Dulcimer Group meets twice weekly (Mondays and Fridays). Dave Hetzler said he preferred the dulcimer “jam sessions,” if it can be called that, over the jam sessions at the American Legion because it’s a quieter musical form. When he first started playing the instrument, he at first “thought this was kinda weird,” but grew to enjoy it.

Donna Rose joins him regularly, and together they play songs from their music books. She said she’s been participating in the group at the Senior Center for six years, and noted the group used to be “really big,” but many have over time moved or passed away.

“I like the gentle sound of it,” Rose said of the dulcimer, adding that it’s “along the same lines as a harp” and is pretty easy to pick up.

While the Senior Center is operated under the City of Lebanon and is not membership-based, Oliver noted it’s nice to see more attendance in the programs because it “reflects how well we are providing a diverse offering of activities for the growing numbers of seniors in the community.”

Debbie Norbraten reads off numbers during a round of bingo at the Lebanon Senior Center.

The programs are focused around areas such as fitness and exercise, lifelong learning, health and wellness, games, social and recreational, arts and culture, and music and theater.

“We know that not everyone likes the same activities, so we want to create a place where there is something for everyone,” Oliver said.
The Senior Center relies on its volunteers who help coordinate activities by sharing their own interests and talents with the community, she added. Those activities help combat the isolation that has been a “challenge” since COVID.

“Isolation is a detriment to the well-being of people of any age,” she said. “A lot of people combatted isolation during COVID with the aid of technology, but not all seniors were able to connect in that way.”

The primary purpose of the services available at the Senior Center is to enhance lives by encouraging physical wellness, fostering social connections, maintaining brain health, maximizing independence and connecting individuals with community resources.

“We want seniors to live their best life,” Oliver said. “Aging looks different for everyone, but there are key things that folks can do to live their best life no matter what their individual path looks like. We are here to help seniors plug into the possibility of living their best life.”