Susan Kingsbury-Comeau is glad to see the recent growth in attendance at the Mt. Si Senior Center, but worries about the population who may not even know about the many resources available at the North Bend facility. (File Photo)

Mt. Si Senior Center expands role for growing population: Executive Director talks about living well into the future, Older Americans Month

Today’s Mt. Si Senior Center in North Bend is, like the multiple generations of senior citizens it now serves, easier to define by what it is not. The 40 year-old facility is not a skilled nursing center, nor is it strictly a quiet gathering place for people to knit, play cards, and drink coffee. It is the center of a variety of activities — knitting, cards and coffee among them — as well as a transportation provider, housing development, thrift store, fitness venue and classroom.

In fact, the Mt. Si Senior Center is starting to look, and feel, a lot like a college campus. The demographic is different, of course, but even that is starting to change.

“What aging looks like isn’t what it used to be. It doesn’t look the same for everyone,” said Susan Kingsbury-Comeau, Executive Director of the Mt. Si Senior Center. “Retirement ages are getting higher, people are becoming parents much later, they’re becoming grandparents much later…. people are coming into older age with better health, but with more on their plates, too.”

Those people are members of the Baby Boomer generation — roughly 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — and they are joining people up to 40 years older than they are in the demographic of “senior citizen.”

“My oldest member is 96 or 97,” said Kingsbury-Comeau, who is struggling with how to keep those members engaged and active in the community, while also meeting the needs of the huge Baby Boomer population arriving at older age now and for the next decade or more.

“This group of Boomers, especially some of the younger Boomers, are going to end up redefining how it is that we support them, as well as anyone who’s aging,” she declared. “The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.”

For instance, “We have, I’d say, the best nutrition program on the eastside,” she said, but few people under the age of 70 take part in it.

The Boomers have already started shaping some things at the senior center, which recently hosted a series of retirement bootcamp classes for all ages, along with periodic info sessions on Medicare and Medicaid.

Kingsbury-Comeau marvels that parents will spend their energy, money and time to consult experts on how their children are developing but give no thought to their own development as they age.

“We invest in our kids, but we don’t invest in ourselves,” she said.

And everything will change, she warns, offering nutritional needs as an example. “You actually need more protein. You need fewer calories, but you need more nutrient-dense foods. Fiber is more important and you don’t feel as thirsty as you age, so you’re more prone to dehydration,” she said, not to mention social isolation.

One of the boot camp presenters provided a “multi-sensory experience” via the Aging in a Bag kit, Kingsbury-Comeau said, “So everyone (could) experience what aging is like….You’re going to experience diminished eyesight, you’re going to experience decreased dexterity, what a lifetime of wear and tear on your feet feels like. And then you can start thinking about what it is to live your life every day like that… with something that gets in the way of fitness, something that gets in the way of nutrition… Some of this stuff you can’t know.”

But you can find out about a lot of it at the senior center, where, every day, she says, there are centuries of wisdom gathered around the dining room tables at lunch time. Also, of course, the senior center is there to provide all aging adults with information and resources.

“One of the key things about any senior center is you hook them with food or you hook them with fitness or you hook them with friends, but what you really are doing on the back side is information, educating and connecting people to resources,” she said.

The center’s numbers are growing. Kingsbury-Comeau said this year’s membership is at 250, up from 103 last year, and the nutrition program, open to all ages, served more than 500 people, and almost 10,000 meals last year. The senior center’s 39-unit senior housing Sno-Ridge Apartments complex is always full, the Boomerang thrift store does brisk business and Snoqualmie Valley Transportation, operating under the umbrella of the senior center, provided more than 40,000 rides to local residents in the past year.

Still, she says, “We have a terrific resource, but …. our community of older adults is not taking advantage of the amazing resource we have.”

Pointing to a census report, she said there are nearly 8,000 people ages 55 or older in Snoqualmie and North Bend, and the senior center’s target audience is primarily anyone 50 or older.

Most of the senior center’s $1.5 million annual operating budget comes from Metro funding, dedicated to the Valley’s bus services. Other funding sources include less-than-reliable grant funding, thrift shop proceeds, donations, memberships and class fees.

“We have 20 hours of fitness programming every week,” Kingsbury-Comeau noted, including a lunchtime class for people who don’t have time before or after regular work hours.

Memberships are only $25 per year, or $40 per couple. Most senior center programs are open to non-members, Kingsbury-Comeau said, so the biggest advantage of membership is discounted rates on trips.

“But that’s not the selling point,”she added. “It’s knowing that you’ve made a place for people to come and age well.”

Learn more about the Mt. Si Senior Center at www.mtsiseniorcenter.org.

May is older Americans month. Learn more at https://oam.acl.gov.

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