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A new age for the Rochester Senior Center

Mary Lou Devlin, 63, of Rochester is on the leading edge — a position she’s only recently come to terms with.

"It was a big philosophical leap," she said about considering herself old enough to join the Rochester Senior Center , which is open to anyone age 50 or older. "I have friends that don’t want to join because it has the reputation that it is for old people."

And although she’s one of the first baby boomers to make that mindset leap, a giant splash is expected to follow.

In Olmsted County, about 16 percent of the population is 60 or older, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. But that number is expected to climb dramatically as the nation’s 76 million baby boomers age.

By 2050, the number of seniors ages 65 and older in the United States is expected to increase by about 128 percent, from more than 38 million now to 86.6 million, according to census estimates.


Rochester, in part because of the top-notch health care, already seems to be an attractive place to retire, said Sally Gallagher, executive director of the Rochester Senior Center, who noted that more seniors are moving to the area.

That puts the senior center in the interesting position of planning for growth at a time when it’s scaling back programs because of a possible $100,000 financial deficit.

Growing needs

"The needs are going to be there," Gallagher said of the growing demographic of seniors looking to stay active, involved and healthy.

Keeping retirees connected through volunteering with everything from tax preparations to Habitat for Humanity home builds could also have a huge positive impact on the community, she said.

In light of that, the Rochester Senior Center has embarked on a "Growing for the Future" campaign.

Still in the early stages, the initiative is gathering information about what new services and facilities will be needed to meet the needs of the growing demographic. The main goal being to continue advocating for healthy aging by providing programs, recreation and services that encourage active, healthy and independent lifestyles for seniors.

"It’s much more than playing cards," Gallagher said of the center’s role in the community.


The approximately 400 noon meals served at the downtown location and delivered to eight other sites, for example, not only provide nutrition, but also an opportunity for socialization, she said.

Struggling to keep up

The ability of seniors to help pay for their meal has declined substantially, Gallagher said.

Unfortunately, the center, too, is facing a budget deficit.

As it wraps up its 2009 budget, the nonprofit organization, which relies on donations, anticipates being down $50,000 to $100,000, Gallagher said.

The center has recently cut hours, staffing and reduced programming, she said.

Volunteers are being given leadership roles and positions in order to keep the program strong in the meantime, she said. That’s in addition to the work volunteers are already doing, which is equivalent to 15 to 16 full-time positions, she said.

At the same time, the center is anticipating an influx in membership, which would call for at least twice the space.


"The facility is at its max," Gallagher said.

To offer special events such as collaborating with Mayo Clinic to provide screenings, regularly scheduled activities have to be canceled, she said.

"One activity alone takes all of our parking lot space," she said.

The center currently has 1,776 members with an average daily attendance of 185 people, said Julie Gran, program director.

"It’s been steady," Gran said in terms of numbers. "We have an open house in September where we gain a lot of new members."

A new age

To house more members down the road, the center is looking at moving or expanding its current facility and parking area, Gallagher said. Programming changes are also being considered.

The idea of a senior center could actually evolve into more of a community center, she said.


"There’s a benefit to having youth and seniors together," she said. "Great connections can be made."

The agency will be 50 in 2011, Gallagher said, noting that she’d like to kick off the next 50 years with a new vision.

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