The life of a modern senior citizen is different from those who came before them. Americans are living longer, and living differently than their preceding generations. So it’s only right that senior centers — where older Americans gather for social interaction, friendship and fellowship — change, too.
In Umatilla County, the cities of Hermiston and Pendleton have taken different tacks to modernizing their senior centers.
The city of Hermiston has taken a more active and supportive role in finances and administration. The city helped locate land for a new Hermiston Senior Center after their old property was given to the school district. And while the center is not flush with funds, the city finding new space and donating dollas has put it on more secure, stable footing. That’s partly due to the 50-year lease of the site from Hermiston School District, a $2 million Community Development Block Grant from the federal government and $750,000 from the city of Hermiston.
Yet those partnerships and collaborations have their drawbacks — the seniors will have to share their facility with other city programs in the future, something many Hermiston seniors are wary about. They do not want to get pushed out, and made clear their desire for their own space. The new building is planned to open in spring 2018, and this newspaper will be sure to document how those issues work out.
Pendleton seniors are in the opposite position. They have all the time and space they need, but their funding is unsecured.
Its senior center is a free-standing nonprofit, which is a conduit for state and federal loans, and also operates off an endowment. But that longterm trust fund reservoir is drying up faster than it is being replenished. The senior center closed for more than a month earlier this summer, due to a lack of adequate staffing. And the future of the center remains in question.
This is all the more serious because of the changing nature of fraternal organizations. Once a stalwart home where multiple generations can interact — offering companionship, support, and a community purpose — they are disappearing throughout the country in favor of new ways of socializing, most of which are now online.
As much of that aspect of our lives moves to the internet, we must remember the power of human touch and human interaction. And to make sure those who cared for us are cared for in their old age. There are many ways of doing that — via critical financial support, volunteering our time, and allowing seniors the ability to make their own decisions. But municipalities and individuals should look for best practices, learn from their neighbors, and make sure their local senior center is thriving and financially secure.