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In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a new era for senior citizens; we are living longer, are more health-conscious and are more physically active than our predecessors. All of these changes are reflected in local senior citizen centers, which cater to the expanding needs of their members. Many have lowered their age requirements, therefore encouraging a diverse range of activities and events.

When I joined 10 years ago, I sat in the corner and minded my own business. I had been a stay-at-home mom, as had many of the women at that time. Most of us were willing to let the board of directors “take care of us” and had little incentive to do otherwise. But times were changing.

Our board became open and more women became politically active. We sat in the peanut gallery, attended more meetings than some of the directors and joined many of the committees when they were opened to members. A woman was elected board chair a few years ago, and I am currently board vice chairwoman, which just goes to show how opportunities have opened up for women.

Our members are not content with passive; we are a new generation of active seniors. We want to contribute – and do so not only in the center, but in our neighborhoods as well. While serving as volunteer coordinator, I learned the value and rewards of being a volunteer; we receive more than we give.

Modern senior centers encourage physical fitness through exercise, dance and activities – from aerobic exercises to Zumba and everything in between. Some have their own exercise rooms with all the latest equipment. Health, wealth and emotional issues are covered through clinics and classes. University Express and specialized speakers encourage intellectual stimulation and our book clubs keep us up to date on modern and classic writers. Add computers, libraries, music, theater, photography, ceramics, stained glass, woodworking, sewing, nature clubs – the centers are always adding more – and you can see the variety offered.

Activities range from competitive cards and games, to active participation in arts and crafts, to relaxed dining and theater, to local and worldwide travel, to empathetic companionship in a safe and comfortable atmosphere.

Many lasting friendships are formed here, and I count some of my truest friends as being those I made at the center. We have all gone through the trials of life; we cry with each other in times of pain, and celebrate in times of joy. Add affordable, healthy and tasty lunches and intelligent, caring, fun members and you begin to see the vibrant, eclectic centers that are available to today’s seniors.

Throughout our lives, the word “senior” designates superiority and importance, but add the word “citizen” and the perception changes. There seems to be a stigma attached to the words “senior citizen.” Many view senior citizens as being senile and complacent, and senior centers as being dull and vacuous. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our senior citizens are the backbone of our religious, moral and political convictions, and the modern centers they belong to support the community. One has only to look past the words “senior citizen” to see people who are enjoying life to the fullest and making a difference in our world.