News / USA

Virtual Center Keeps Seniors on Their Toes

Program offers activities despite having no building

June Soh

In a small community in Virginia, elderly residents have developed a program that helps them stay active and involved, without having a huge impact on the local government budget.

Edna Ludden, 71, attends one of four line-dancing classes offered to seniors in the Burke and West Springfield neighborhoods in Fairfax County. The weekly program is popular among the elderly residents with more than 60 participants in each class.

"I love it. I like to come. It is good to get some exercise, it makes me happy," says Ludden. "It's good for my brain because I have to remember these steps."

This is just one of the activities that wasn’t available in her neighborhood until two years ago, when Corazon Foley asked county officials to start a local senior center.

“At first, they said we could not do it because there was no money nor a staff," Foley recalls. "So I told them, 'Well, what is the money for?' and they said 'To build a center.' I said 'You do not have to build a center, you can just ask the churches and the other groups who have facilities to donate their facilities.'”  

So the Burke/West Springfield Senior Center Without Walls, a senior center with programs but without a building, was created.

Using facilities donated by churches, schools, libraries and businesses, the virtual center offers a dozen programs and activities such as yoga, Tai Chi, book clubs and computer classes. The nominal $5 fee participants pay for each eight-week class goes to the instructor.

Annette Devito, who is taking a computer class, says she always tries to learn new things. “One of the main things was learning about Facebook, too. That was the highlight today.”

Shirley Dibartolo and her husband enjoy square dancing and try not to miss a class.

“I think the socialization is very good," she says. "We have made a lot of new friends and we have been more active. It makes you get out because you are going to go to class.”

John Cook, a member of the County Board of Supervisors, says the Senior Center Without Walls is a great example of how a public-private partnership can do what the government alone can not.

“County staff is actively involved but it is also a program that is run by citizen volunteers, and that is a great combination to have.”

The seniors' efforts and the creative partnership have been noticed. The group, Burke/West Springfield Senior Center Without Walls, received a 2010 Commitment Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for integrating smart growth and active aging, and an award this year from the National Association of Counties.  

“When you help the seniors get better," Foley says, "you are helping the families, and the whole community get better in that sense.”

Foley also says seniors who stay physically active can help the nation address its health care crisis, while having lots of fun.

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