Senior Center Network: Connecting Seniors With Their Communities

When one hears the word “network,” what comes to mind? According to Merriam-Webster, it could be “a system of lines, wires, etc., that are connected to each other” or “a group of people or organizations that are closely connected and that work with each other.” The latter is what defines the Grand Traverse County Senior Center Network.

In 2011, the Traverse City Senior Center merged with the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging with the support of the citizens approving a 0.1 mill levy to fund operations. The Senior Center has spent the last three years developing what has come to be known as the Senior Center Network. The center of the operation is at 801 E. Front St., where the Traverse City Senior Center has been in operation since 1969. Previously supported by the City of Traverse City, the Center is well-known in the Senior Center arena across Michigan, meeting criteria for accreditation and standards set forth by the Office of Services to the Aging.

The Senior Center Network has expanded to include Acme, Fife Lake, Interlochen and Kingsley, with satellite locations in each of these communities. Outreach activity is managed by Coordinator Sharon Neumann, who works closely with each community, assessing the interest and needs of the older adult population and working to provide services that are in demand. The satellite locations are diverse and each have their own distinct qualities.

  • In Acme, Hope Village of Traverse City has provided a designated space for senior center programming. They have provided staff support, free space for programming and countless efforts to assure successful programming for Acme residents.
  • In Fife Lake, the Senior Center is working with the Fife Lake Public Library to bring senior programming to this community. The Senior Center provides activities to supplement what the library offers to the seniors. Shared space within the library provides ample opportunity to bring exercise, educational and social programming to the area.
  • In Kingsley, the Senior Center enjoys a mutually beneficial arrangement with the youth center The Rock. When the kids are in school, the seniors enjoy the space for activities, including lunch, line dancing, card games, support groups and the like. When the kids get out of school, the seniors stick around and offer supervisory support so that the Rock is able to provide service to the kids.
  • The Interlochen site is a three-way cooperative arrangement between the Interlochen Public Library, Green Lake Township and the Senior Center. The senior activities take place in the Golden Fellowship Hall, adjacent to the library, which was built by seniors for seniors in the 1980s. The township manages the space and was happy to have the senior center come along and pick up where the seniors left off years ago when leadership for the seniors was lost. The community was ready for someone to step in and pull the seniors back together and now the program is alive and well with activities going on five days a week including evenings.

The network is closely connected to community in many ways. This network includes seniors participating in the program, families in the community reaching out for services to support their loved ones, and businesses looking for ways to connect with the ever increasing older adult population. All of these connections woven together create the network that supports seniors in their quest to find their purpose.

Seniors come to the Senior Center for many different reasons. There are those who are challenged by family members to “give it a try” in hopes that they will find something other than sitting home alone to do with their time. Some find a specific activity of interest and reach out to the Senior Center to be educated or informed. There are those who look to the Senior Center for support, to help them get through a tough time in their life – loss of a loved one or maybe a disease diagnosis that requires a new lifestyle. The Senior Center is also a place for the person who has decided to live a more active lifestyle, with daily exercise classes, hiking and cycling groups, tennis, shuffleboard, pickleball, dance classes, tai chi, yoga, pilates and golf programs. Then there are those who are just looking to broaden their circle of friends, expand their social network and looking for a place to make new connections – that is what makes the Senior Center Network the place to be!

Lori Wells is deputy director of the Senior Center Network, based in Traverse City. She is senior center director certified and has managed the Traverse City Senior Center since 1990.