Redwood Coast Senior Center provides stimulating activities, essential programs, and services for active elders. Located in Fort Bragg, on the magnificent Mendocino Coast, our historic community center supports optimal wellness and healthy aging.
Author Charles Bush has lived on the Mendocino Coast for nearly four decades. Before coming to the Coast, he managed large residential service operations on college campuses. He co-founded Mendocino’s successful and long-lived Community School. Recently retired from his position as director of Chamisa Mesa School near Taos, New Mexico, he came back to the Coast to take it easy ... and NOW look what’s happened to him! 'I love my work building community with elders here on the North Coast'.
The Heart Is About Relationship
By Charles Bush
It’s getting better to get older! We are living longer, staying healthier, and have more time and wisdom to give back to family and community. We also are experiencing financial pressures, isolation and need for support. That’s what the Senior Center is all about - adapting to more elders with changing needs and abilities in order to make growing old a treasured time rather than a hardship.
The story of service is partly captured in the numbers. Every month we serve 1200 meals, half in the dining room and half delivered to shut in elders homes. Over 1000 folks ride the senior buses all over town, and participate in more than 100 hours every week of programs, services, education, and social activities tailored to the needs and wants of our senior community.
While that huge amount of service is crucial, the real heart of the matter is all about relationship. Every exchange of support is marked by a moment of sharing, person-to-person. While the service takes care of the needs, the contact provides the joy and the meaningfulness. It is surprising to grasp the sheer scope of what the senior center provides. The numbers are amazingly larger than most folks would imagine. Combining everything we do together, staff and volunteers at the center had direct individual contact providing support and relationship with North Coast senior citizens more than 100,000 times last year.
Finding and maintaining friendships and having interesting and meaningful ways to contribute are the core of “senior centering”. A quarter of the cost of running the Center comes directly in fees from elders collected on a “pay what you can afford” basis. No one is ever turned away! We know that elders have widely differing incomes, and many have limited opportunity to expand their wealth - so the price of everything at the Senior Center is “what you can afford.” Somehow, so far, there is always enough to go around. Of course most of the 10,000 hours of annual volunteer staff time is provided by elders themselves. Important work for everyone - all levels of skill and capacity welcome.
The result - companionship, purpose and security, three of the most important qualities of a happy old age. Certainly one of the main marks of a wise and good society is how it cares for its young and old. The North Coast community directly contributes a third of of the cash, food and materials the Center needs every year. The governments important but dwindling share is down to 38%. The traditional senior center may be evolving from a government-funded social service institution to more of a locally designed and supported Elder Community Center. We will continue to expect government support for big projects like food and transportation, but higher-level “quality of life” issues will be designed and supported locally. Here in the coast we are ahead of the game. We already making that transition. We are shouldering more of the cost, sharing more of the work, and expanding what we do to reflect the unique local needs of our small rural coastal community.
While “services” will continue to be one focus, the Senior Center will expand its role in helping create “connections” that don’t cost a lot of money, like between a meals-on-wheels driver and a shut-in elder ...or between a senior facing life problems and a peer counselor. Between folks without transportation and drivers on their way to somewhere...
People looking for something useful to do and others with a favorite activity that needs participants and a place. Between workers with a lifetime of experience and an organization in need of knowledgeable volunteer help... Older teachers ready to pass their knowledge on to others eager to learn... Lonely elder neighbors can reach out to a working families with no grandparents to help with the kids and household... or to empty nesters and elders struggling with living alone for the first time. Between people needing assistance and support groups of all different kinds. The possibilities are endless!
Coastal residents can expect their Senior Center to evolve into a community crossroads where elders bring both their needs and capabilities, match up with each other, and also join in service with the younger community who are making sure that their elders are secure and valued. This is how to do more with less money: Be local with our hearts and minds, and be sure we don’t leave anybody behind.