The future for older adults is vibrant, active and multigenerational with a variety of easily-accessible activities, says Michael Wargo, head of Willamalane Park and Recreation District in Springfield.
It’s also a future that’s quickly changing to meet the needs of a growing population, with the number of adults ages 50 and older expected to reach nearly 128 million in the next several years.
“I believe age is nothing but a number,” he says. “And I also believe that it’s true that adults are more active than ever.”
Wargo came to Oregon after two years in Louisiana (“I really didn’t like the humidity or the crocodiles”) and was appointed superintendent of Willamalane a year ago, where he oversees facility and program operations, staffing and strategic planning for more than 400 programs. He previously gained experience in sports management and park systems management in New Jersey and Louisiana.
Willamane has been serving the Springfield community for nearly 75 years, and the adult activity center (WAAC) has been operating for 40 years. Wargo and his program manager Sarah Judd hope to increase the diversity of programming for older adults, including multi-generational activities.
“Why does it have to be just an adult activity center?” Wargo says. “Why can’t it be an activity center that serves all of the population of families?”
This would enable the center to serve families with young children, older adults by themselves or older adults who want to do things with their children and/or grandchildren. The center already has a robust fitness program including a swimming pool for all ages. “We’ve extended our programming for people of all ages in all of our facility and I want to see more of that taking place,” he says.
For example, the Bob Keefer Center has an adult and youth fitness program and a preschool. “Wouldn’t it be special if we were able to connect the two for either story times or other interactions between those two groups?” Wargo says. “Because I think both groups could certainly learn a lot from each other and keep everybody energetic and just provide some youthful exuberance.”
He likes to call the WAAC “Springfield’s living room” because it’s a gathering place where people can interact with others in a comfortable setting. “It’s a welcoming place to come in and you can read a book, work on some puzzles or play some games with your friends or you can just have a conversation,” he says. “It’s a really unique opportunity that gives people a reason to get out of their homes and interact with other people and with new activities.”
That’s an important concept as the Merck Manual shows nearly 30 percent of the 46 million older adults in the United States live alone in their homes. About three-quarters of those are women. Living alone can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, so having classes and programs that are easily accessible, or even just providing a place to sit and eat a sack lunch with others can make a real difference in quality of life.
Because so many older adults live on fixed incomes, Wargo acknowledges the responsibility to keep his programming affordable, so many of the lectures are offered at no charge.
An increasing number of patrons participate in the Silver Benefits fitness program through their medical insurance, which helps them stay active and within their budgets, Judd says.
She sees today’s older adults wanting to engage with technology like Facebook so they can keep up with family and friends. And many have an entrepreneurial spirit.
“They’re leaving the workplace, and they’re interested in creating their own goals, such as publishing a memoir or starting a business selling on eBay,” Judd says. “We’re also seeing that they’re very much into travel and wanting to be independent and develop hobbies they never had time for or that they did when they were younger.”
Wargo and Judd consistently look for trends that speak to the needs and wants of today’s older adults, and tailor their programming based on their findings. You might find a class on soapmaking, vicariously hiking through Japan or wading through the confusing world of Medicare.
Other programming has included tips on how to avoid being scammed, saving money by doing things yourself, learning new crafts, and even using the equipment in the rock and gem studio or the woodworking shop.
Learn more about Willamalane’s programming and register for these and more classes at willamalane.org.