Fauquier Senior Center offers these keys to remaining engaged and avoiding isolation
“Brenda was a bookkeeper for 31 years. She looked forward to retirement when she could travel, garden, and sleep late. After leaving her job, however, Brenda found that she missed interacting with people. That’s when she found the Fauquier Senior Center in Warrenton. “The Senior Center saved my sanity,” Brenda said. “I had no idea how much I would suffer without people around me. Now I have new friends and I look forward to seeing them.”
Brenda isn’t alone. For various reasons, many men and women over the age of 59 have found a refuge at the Fauquier Senior Center. Another participant, Ella, insists that activities at the Center “are keeping my brain healthy.” Her days had been spent languishing at home watching mindless TV shows until her son arrived home from work. He suggested the Senior Center, but Ella was reluctant; she had never been a “joiner.” But she gave it a chance and now is so glad she did.
Senior centers sprang up in the 1950s and 1960s when social workers sought a way to combat the profound social isolation they saw in many of their older clients. The centers started as nutrition sites: places to get a healthy lunch and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with sharing a meal. The benefits were immediately apparent; the idea caught on and expanded in scope. Now there are 11,000 senior centers in the U.S. serving a million older adults.
Each center has its own personality. Some are affiliated with child care centers, gyms, or hospitals. The Fauquier Senior Center is run by Casey Shelton, an energetic woman who can’t stop raving about her program. “We serve active adults, aged 60 and wiser,” she bubbled. “Everything is free, even the transportation to and from home.” Casey and her “amazing” (as she calls them) volunteers set up daily activities. These activities include some you might expect: bingo, cards, and board games. Others you may not expect, such as exercise class, volleyball and trips to Walmart.
“We ask folks to try us three times and then sign up as members,” said Casey. Once a person is a member, he or she can come as frequently or infrequently as they wish. “We are always looking for people from the community to come in and share their talents: craft projects, music, magic—you name it, we’re interested in showcasing it at the Senior Center.”
Shelton emphasized the health benefits of participating in the Center. She recounted the story of a gentleman who came in using a walker and now, only occasionally, uses a cane. “He started moving more and was motivated by seeing others dance and have fun.” In fact, research shows that, compared to their peers, senior center attendees have better health, social interaction, and life satisfaction. A recent study indicated that social isolation is as detrimental to an older adult’s health as smoking three-quarters of a pack of cigarettes a day.
Reluctance to join is a common issue. Ed, a participant at the Center, remembered, “I wasn’t sure at first, but once I came, I realized how happy it made me [to attend].” Rose recognized the tremendous potential benefits for her father-in-law, so when he came to live with her she talked to him about joining the Center. She had to convince him to go: ‘Just try it one day a week.’ I knew he was outside his comfort level, but I also knew it would give him a reason to get up, get dressed and look forward to the day.” After only a couple of weeks, he waited at the door for her to give him a ride, saying, “Rose, it’s time to get to the Center.”
Rose’s father-in-law ended up attending Monday through Thursday every week. According to Rose, he slept better, made friends, and enjoyed conversations with World War II veterans like himself. Rose acknowledges the benefits to the seniors, but also to family members who need time to complete errands or go for coffee with friends.
A person must be able to navigate the Center independently in order to join. Individuals needing additional assistance can attend the Warrenton Adult Day Program, co-located at the E. Shirley Avenue building. Molly Snurr, program supervisor, welcomes potential participants and is happy to offer a trial day. “Many family members tell me, ‘Dad doesn’t want to come.’ But once they get here, they get comfortable and it becomes part of their routine.”
Helen, a Senior Center participant for the past three years, smiles broadly as she reports, “I love the Center. I love the different people and all the activities. We laugh every day. I especially like going out to lunch.” Anyone who thinks the Senior Center is one step from a nursing home should visit and join in the laughter—it’s contagious.
Fauquier Senior Center
430 E. Shirley Ave.
Warrenton, VA 20186
Open Monday through Thursday, 10 am to 2 pm
Warrenton Adult Day Healthcare Center
Open Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4 pm
Payment on a sliding scale, maximum $61/day