A recent study by three researchers at Arizona State University found that senior centers play a vital role in the health and happiness of senior citizens. The team surveyed 1,500 seniors at 18 rural and urban senior centers in Arizona and South Carolina. They examined the centers' ability to provide seniors with activities, social opportunities, access to information and resources, and meal programs.
- The meal programs served a vulnerable population of seniors, many of whom made less than $12,000 a year.
- The centers were an important source of information on nutrition, legal and health-related issues.
- Seventy-five percent of the seniors in the study credited the center for helping them find and keep friends.
Earlier this year, the Payson Senior Center was on the verge of having to close its doors after nearly 25 years. Fortunately, the town stepped in and offered the center $30,000 to assist with the budget shortfall, assuring its survival for at least one more year.
Many municipalities contribute substantial funds to their senior centers, either in the form of financial support, free utilities, or covering building maintenance costs. Payson has historically contributed approximately $5,000 a year and paid rent for a portion of a parking lot.
Given that our senior center provides much of what the study shows is vital to the welfare of our elderly population, perhaps it's time for the town to offer more support to the center.
One idea would be to include the center and thrift store in the Main Street Program and enhance its appearance. Although the center is not a business, it certainly draws people to Main Street, many of whom visit the stores while they are there.
Perhaps the most important role of the center is that it feeds many seniors who simply cannot afford to eat. As Director Marsha Cauley said, sometimes they have to make a choice between medication and food -- a disturbing circumstance.
Homebound seniors are brought meals five days a week. Meals on Wheels does not just offer food, but volunteers who pay daily visits check on them as well, making sure they are OK. This may be their only contact with the outside.
The optimal idea is a large community center in Rumsey Park. Getting all the agencies so important to seniors such as the senior center, Senior Circle, Memory Lane and Elderbuilders under one roof, would provide one-stop shopping in a beautiful setting.
But for now, the senior center's focus is keeping services going for area senior citizens. Now that an award-winning study proves the benefits and importance of senior centers, maybe the town can consider this at budget time.