Feature Article - July 2018
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All Grown Up

Innovative Programs for Active Older Adults

By Dave Ramont


Back in Illinois, Grodsky said that they're inundated with various healthcare groups such as home healthcare organizations, etc., asking if they can present a free program or provide free bingo. She says that they sometimes allow them to be sponsors for lunches or entertainment. "It's a wonderful source of revenue for us, and it allows for different healthcare providers to get their name out."

Many parks departments host walking clubs, and Grodsky said theirs meets three times a week. To encourage more visits, they developed an eight-week Fitness Challenge: If a member participated in 20 out of 24 walks, they got a free T-shirt, provided by a sponsor. "People will do anything for a T-shirt," Grodsky said. "I'm going to do it again, and they're going to get a water bottle. Attendance just soared, and it was something really easy. When I first came here I got everybody pedometers and they recorded how far they walked in a six-week period and we gave little rewards for that. There's such simple stuff you can do to get people up and moving."

Another big annual event Grodsky is involved with is the IPRA Six County Senior Games, a sort of senior Olympics sponsored by the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association. It features more than 20 events including softball and volleyball, track and field, swimming, golf, trap shooting, bowling, billiards and table tennis. Last year more than 500 people aged 50-plus participated, with the oldest participant being 100. He shot pool and threw the softball, but gave up the 50-yard dash, which he still competed in at age 99. "People like to win and we give medals, but they're most concerned about their personal best. They like to be healthy and continue to grow, so that's why the Senior Games is a best look at positive aging," Grodsky said.

The Addison Park District offers an art class supported by a grant from a local foundation, so instructor and supplies are offered for six weeks for $12. "It's an amazing program, and we were lucky this grant came to us," Grodsky said. "It's filled every time—12 students."

Other offerings include a tap dance class and line dance class, and a drop-in program called Dance Mania where people can come every week and do the dances of their choice. Grodsky said these are very popular, but added that things that are popular there weren't necessarily popular at her last district, and vice versa. "You've got to know your population and your community and not be afraid to try things."

Grodsky also suggests agencies be willing to change their hours a bit, and do evening programs sometimes since many older adults are still working. In the summer they host a pig roast with a luau or country & western theme. They offer outings to sporting events or concerts, purchasing the tickets and providing bus transportation. They have speakers come in and present historical portrayals, and they host a book discussion group. They offer Brain Games, a monthly program featuring trivia, puzzles and brain teasers to help keep minds sharp. And every year they present a variety show with actors, dancers and a chorus. They hold two shows at a banquet hall, and last year they had 40 participants and drew 300 spectators.

Grodsky recounted how at her previous district, a newspaper wanted to come in and take pictures for a story on older adult programming. But she stopped them from taking pictures of people playing cards. "That's what people think older people do," she said. "Parks are good for the brain, but we don't want that stereotype. They play cards, but they also tap dance, take day trips, exercise and sing. We want to show that there's a lot of new stuff out there too."