Senior centers are more than “boring old people”

When my daughter turned 50 last year, I showed her the cover of my Golden Opportunities brochure, the guide for seniors published by the Renton Senior Activity Center. It said it was for adults 50 and over, so I thought — cool, she and I can do activities there together. Unfortunately, she was less than enthusiastic about the idea.

Many people have these stereotypical images of what a senior center is, imagining boring old people playing bingo. But I learned the truth when I moved to Renton from California nine years ago. It was a difficult adjustment for me, since I had lived in California since 1951. Now, I think of Renton as my home, and I must give some credit to the Renton Senior Center. I started to wonder how other seniors in the area feel about the center and decided to investigate.

I contacted Betty McLain who has taught dancing classes at the center and was once the facilitator for my Writing for Fun group and asked for her thoughts about the center.

“No matter how tired I am when my little Toyota Yaris arrives at the center, I know I’m at home. When I plug in the speaker, dance music pours out and the fun begins! Problems, caregiving, illnesses are temporarily forgotten in this haven. I’ve been teaching for about 27 years here. It’s not work. I get the best benefits of all — new friendships and lots of hugs.”

I also met with Debbi Little, recreation supervisor at the Renton Senior Center. She is passionate about the center where she has worked for the last 29 years. She is somewhat like a cruise director on a journey for which we seniors in this area are happy to climb aboard. With a degree in Leisure Services from Central Washington University, she had many options, but in 1979 chose to work for the city of Renton as a recreation specialist. In this capacity, she taught lessons at neighborhood centers and worked with children in the Special Olympics programs.

“This is the best decision I ever made. It’s like going to work with your friends every day — both staff and participants,” she said. “Isolation is one of the most dangerous problems for seniors. This is a wonderful place to find social stimulation and learn new skills that engage the brain.”

Debbi has learned that even if area residents just want to come into the coffee bar and chat, it’s a healthy option compared to sitting home alone. There’s also a fitness center and plenty of classes for exercise, dance, art and computers. I heard about the Clutter Buster class. Who couldn’t benefit by that?

Bridging the technological age gap is becoming more important for seniors as we are being forced to face computerized challenges in our every day life.

There are services to help with legal problems, tax and insurance issues and many other senior needs. Even those who have not yet received their AARP cards, are benefiting from help with long-term financial planning.

I spoke with a few folks who attend the center:

Barb Bahner: “You never know who you’re going to meet here. I enjoy learning about the variety of experiences of people here. I like to hear their stories about their approach to life and personal journeys.”

Steve Riordan (a group facilitator): “A few years after retiring, my wife said I really needed to get a hobby or two! I love coming to the senior center and found out I love to paint watercolors. I also really enjoy the writing group, and the staff is very friendly, too.”

Skip Clemans: “I started coming to the center after my wife passed away. I tried other senior centers but I now drive here to Renton from Bellevue. I took some dance classes and then joined the writing group. I never wrote before but now I’m writing memoirs, science fiction and even poetry!”

Hisako Leatherman: “I have very positive feelings about every class I’ve taken. I play ping pong here, take computer classes and I have been writing about my childhood in Japan in the Writing for Fun group so my children and grandchildren can read about it.”

It’s very important to keep moving, keep learning and keep socializing. I want all younger people to know that getting old can have advantages — statistics have shown that retirement can be a great mood enhancer! The Renton Senior Activity Center is at 211 Burnett Ave N., Renton, WA 98057. You can contact Debbie Little at or writer Jaris English at