For the last 11 years, my family has been very involved with one of our local senior centers. Growing up, I just thought of it as "fundraising for Mom's workplace" or "helping Mom out around the office." It wasn't until I started applying for jobs and colleges that Mom told me I could list my "helping out" as volunteer work for the Senior Center. That's when it really hit me that there was more to the Senior Center than just a place of employment for my mom.

I recently had a chance, thanks to a freak mid-March Nor'easter, to sit down with mom and talk to her about what it is her center does for the community. Being the director, my mom was ecstatic that I wanted to do an article on all the good things senior centers do, and how community members can help their local center.

My mom works for the Phoenixville Area Senior Center (PHXSC for short in this article), and they serve the areas of Northern Chester County and Western Montgomery County. Pennsylvania senior centers serve as a place for people over the age of 60 to come hang out, have a hot meal, and enjoy some social time with their friends. PHXSC, specifically, has members that range in age from people in their mid-50s to around age 98. Because of this wide range in members, PHXSC offers an even wider range of things to do. There are exercise classes for folks who want to help maintain their mobility and strength, but there are also card games, puzzles, scrabble, bridge, pinochle, and other games that help to stimulate your mind for folks who are having a harder time getting around. PHXSC also has a hair dresser that comes in once a week for anyone at the center who wants their hair cut, washed, and styled. The biggest service that PHXSC offers, however, is the warm, safe, social environment for seniors who might feel a little lonely just staying home by themselves. The center stresses the importance of friendship and keeping active as you age, which can be extremely beneficial to your health.

PHXSC also offers day trips and multi-day trips that seniors can take. Most of the people that attend the multi-day trips are couples from the Baby-Boomer generation, who have recently retired but are not quite ready to settle down. The center has taken their members on cruises to Hawaii, Alaska, and Russia just to name a few! In terms of day trips, the center has taken members to Washington D.C., Hunterdon Hills in Hampton, NJ, and Mohegan Sun Casino in Wilkes-Barre, PA. They also go to dinner theaters and other shows in and around the Southeastern Pennsylvania area.

Another great service PHXSC provides is assistance in healthcare, rent rebates, filing taxes, social security help, and home healthcare services. PHXSC also has representatives from various assisted living facilities and nursing homes come in to talk to folks about what their facility does and is like. This gets the ball rolling for anyone who is in a tough position to either move into a facility like this, or a family member. The staff at PHXSC finds that these programs and speakers helpful to their members because it gets the word out about what kind of help is available for people who may not be able to live alone anymore. If something critical were to happen to them or their spouse/sibling/etc, the staff at PHXSC can help point their members in the right direction.

PHXSC also provides lunches. The center serves a hot lunch every day, with the choice of an alternative cold meal (if you don't care for the hot one). The hot lunches are funded by Chester county and only cost, members over the age of 60, $2. If there is a member under the age of 60, the meal is still a very reasonable $4.86. The alternate cold meal is made by PHXSC's own Food Service Coordinator and is completely funded by donations. The cold meal is a flat $3, still extremely reasonable in price. PHXSC also offers breakfast three times a week for free, and it's open to the community. The breakfast program is made possible due to donations, grants, and fundraising. The center serves about 30-35 people a day for lunches and about the same for breakfast.

One thing PHXSC, and most other centers in Pennsylvania, needs is funding. There is a misconception that all of the revenue generated from the lottery goes directly to the senior centers when actually only 1/3 of the center's funding comes from the lottery. The other 2/3s comes from grants, fundraising, donations, and annual appeals. Many centers find themselves extremely limited in what they can provide for their members due to their lack of funding. Foundations that provide grants for centers have been a lifeline in keeping them open and operating, but a number of foundations that have grants for seniors are very small. Senior centers, however, are so very thankful for the foundations that have been helping to keep them open for many years.

PHXSC couldn't do the things they do without their staff. The staff of PHXSC consists of five full-time employees and six part-time employees, plus a group of amazing volunteers. The seniors at PHXSC love the staff and volunteers that help service them. The staff really listens to what their members what and what they want to do. Recently, there's been a move to start a walking club at PHXSC for members who want to get out and enjoy the warm weather once it arrives. The whole building functions as a family. When a staff member is sick, the members ask how you are feeling as soon as you come back, and vice versa. When a member is sick, the staff make sure that someone calls to check up on them and makes sure that they are okay.

Having grown up going to work with Mom and seeing all of the interaction and good things the senior center does, made me realize how much I want centers to be around. Not only do I want them around for my grandparents and parents, but I also want them around for myself and future generations to have. Senior centers are so much more than their stereotype. They're a place for people to come and be social with each other and to enjoy life a little longer.

For more information on the Phoenixville Senior Center, check out their webpage at: http://phoenixvilleseniorcenter.org/ and for more information on a center near you (in PA) check out the Pennsylvania Association of Senior Centers at: http://www.pascpulse.org/.