Cory Houghton, director of Senior Circle, doesn't understand the stigma attached to growing old.
"When I thought of my grandparents as seniors, I didn't think of them as old people," Houghton said. "I thought of their years of experience and the lives they had led. They were mentors to me. But now (the term "seniors") just means old."
Senior Circle was founded four years ago by Community Health Systems, the company that owns Payson Regional Medical Center. It is a nonprofit organization, but it's not tax exempt.
"They developed Senior Circle so there would be a quality seniors program in every community where there is a CHS hospital," Houghton said. "There are about 60 around the nation."
The idea behind Senior Circle is to provide health and wellness to people 50 and older.
"That's the age when health issues begin to surface, and the doctor just doesn't have time anymore," she said. "He probably doesn't own his own practice and he's being dictated to by the insurance companies."
To fill that gap, Senior Circle offers a wide range of programs that are exercise, nutrition or education-based.
Exercise classes currently being offered include Tai Chi, Qigong, armchair aerobics, two arthritis exercise programs, and even belly dancing.
"They came to me and asked if they could do it because one of our members used to teach belly dancing," Houghton said. "The rule to start a class is that you have to have at least six people. There are 10 or 12 of them and they are having a great time."
Houghton also is about to start an aquatic exercise program at the Days Inn pool.
Other activities include meals, parties, and educational presentations on a variety of subjects. Members also get a variety of other benefits including discounts on prescriptions, travel and books.
Because CHS subsidizes Senior Circle, membership costs $15 a year for an individual, $27 for a couple.
"Many of the specific programs we offer are free, or maybe it costs $2 or $3 to attend," Houghton said.
Since Houghton took over Senior Circle two years ago, membership has grown from about 100 to 760. While people are eligible to join at age 50, many in that group are still working and don't have the time.
"We are trying to offer some things in the evening, but even those are not well attended by the younger seniors," she said. "That's really too bad, because 50 is when health problems start happening."
Fortunately those who do participate don't act their age. "The members who are in their 70s and 80s are so not old," Houghton said. "They tell me they look in the mirror and wonder who that person is."
In fact, Houghton counts many of her best friends among the more senior seniors.
"I have a lot of good friends who are twice my age," she said. "When we sit down and talk, there's not much difference in how we feel about things. The only difference is the life experiences they've had and how much they can teach me."
She's also impressed by how much attention today's seniors pay to their health.
"Seventy- and 80-year-olds are very proactive about health," she said. "They're doing things 50-year-olds aren't.
"They're into holistic, alternative medicines. They're searching for the right herbal supplements and vitamins. They're exercising."
Houghton considers her position at Senior Circle her dream job.
When she's not hanging out with members, she's most likely to be spending time with people at the other end of the age spectrum her two daughters, who are 11 and 14.
In fact, a primary reason she moved to Payson in 1999 was to raise her children in a small-town setting.
"I was a single mom and where we lived in Washington, 20 miles northeast of Seattle, we were starting to see a new kind of gang activity," she said. "We were living in Microsoft land and these were kids whose parents were working 60-, 70-, 80-hour weeks. These were not uneducated kids."
Houghton is every bit as passionate about her children as she is about seniors.
"Kids are the greatest gift God gives us," she said. "I just adore my daughters. They are the greatest joy of my life."
Houghton, who has a medical background, gave up a good job managing a medical clinic to move to Payson.
"My sister had come to Payson to go to festivals and I have family in the Valley and southern California," she said. "I got on the Internet the Roundup's web page I looked at the schools, I talked to your publisher on the phone for like a half hour. He gave me all the pros and cons, but said it was a great place to raise kids."
Once here, she found a job managing a doctor's office, and she met her new husband Frontier Elementary School teacher Brad Bolt.
"I wasn't looking," she said. "So many of my friends worry more about dating than being a good mom."
With what little spare time she has, Houghton dabbles in gardening and art.
"I love charcoal and watercolors, but I've never tried to sell anything," she said. "I just give it away."
The move to Payson has worked out well for Houghton. She's right where she wants to be, surrounding by the wisdom of age and the enthusiasm of youth.
"There's a lot of laughter in my life," she said. "Have you ever read studies about how good laughter is for you?"
Name: Cory Houghton
Occupation: Adviser for Payson Regional Senior Circle
Employer: Payson Regional Medical Center
Age: Whatever I feel for the day. I've learned this from the members.
Birthplace: Tacoma, Wash.
Family: Husband Brad Bolt, daughters Sarah and Lacy Donovan
Personal Motto: Stand firmly in your shoes and live your life.
Inspiration: Pansy Cameron Evers, a Presbyterian minister who opened my eyes to the term "being fully human."
Greatest feat: Being a parent
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Gardening, art, reading
Three words that describe me best: Caring, assertive, passionate
I don't want to brag, but: I have the greatest job in the world.
Person in history I'd most like to meet: Mary, the mother of Jesus. She had to have been strong to endure.
Luxury defined: To be able to buy one more tree, flower or plant to place in my world.
Dream vacation spot: My home
Why Payson: Because if you go in life with an open heart and an open mind where you are called to go, everything else follows.