*Having a social life can offer huge benefits to one’s mental and physical health. From making you less likely to catch a cold to sleeping better, there are rewards for getting out there and enjoying a chinwag with someone in your community.
However, for senior citizens of color who have moved to a country like the United States from the diaspora, staying social can be a challenge. Being a person of color already makes you a minority but the fact that you were not born in that country can only add to that. You may be reluctant to engage with other seniors in the community for fear of bigotry or you may have fewer connections and therefore lack ways of staying social.
These challenges are very real for black and brown elderly people, and it’s something that community centers have tried to address. Community centers have a long history of tailoring to both the youngest and the oldest members of society.
How Community Centres Became a Hub for Social Seniors
Although the average age of the population and the size of the elderly demographic has risen especially over the last few years, community centers didn’t just spring out of nowhere. According to a report on the history of community centers, the important public buildings have existed since at least the 20th century. Edward J. Ward, a Presbyterian minister in Rochester, NY, began to advocate for community centers and, as an organizer for the Wisconsin Bureau of Civic and Social Development, he was able to discuss and share the idea of the centers. The work by Ward (and others) led to there being hundreds of community centers in 240 cities across the United States of America by 1923-24.
A paper by Robert Fisher Ph.D., a professor of community organization at the University of Connecticut, cited in the report, explained that community centers were designed to help immigrants and people of color. Fisher wrote that social centers could act as “magnets attracting citizens whose segregation into class and ethnic groups had obscured their common bonds, loyalties, and responsibilities”. The professor added that “social centers would lend harmony and foster cooperation among the working-class and immigrant elements.” This is opposed to early versions of social centers which aimed to “Americanize” black and brown people by providing them with free adult education.
Today, community centers remain an important part of a community and the social lives of senior citizens. Black people have the highest churchgoing rates in the US and do see the church as an important part of being social but community centers provide an addition to that, not restricting social connections to denominations or religious beliefs and giving seniors a chance to be social on days other than Sunday.
What Activities Can Seniors Do to Stay Social?
Community centers provide more than just a social hub in which people can get together and have a chat; these centers offer entertaining activities for the elderly to take part in.
Games are often a big part of activity programs at community centers because there is a long history to games and it means that the senior citizens may already be familiar with the rules. Bingo is a popular choice with many seniors likely having frequented bingo halls in their youth – in the 1960s, the bingo house debuted and they became a much-liked way to catch up with friends, meet new people, and play a game together. The laid-back but competitive feel of bingo is engaging and fun and with sites that offer free online bingo, seniors can still enjoy themselves playing bingo even on days when the community center isn’t open. Many bingo sites offer chat rooms to keep the social element alive. There are also different themes (including stylish and posh bingo games, and bingo games designed for female players) which should provide some additional variety that bingo at community centers don’t offer.
Some community centers also offer the opportunity to get a sweat on. In the UK, there is a nightclub for the elderly in London where senior citizens can dance and eat food in the middle of the afternoon. It’s not what most people consider a “nightclub” – technically, it’s more of an “afternoon club” – but it does let elderly people in the community of Hackney enjoy the music from their youth with other people in their age group. Age shouldn’t be a limiting factor on getting your groove on and this elderly disco shows it.
Community Centres Are Popular All Over the World
The diaspora is far and wide and made up of millions of people. Those who have chosen to move away from the motherland can come from an island in the Caribbean, a country in the African continent, or southeast Asia. Because of this, there are community centers for ethnic groups all over the world.
The UK is a region which has become home to many people from the diaspora because of the history of colonialism and its involvement in global conflicts. For these reasons, you can find community centers with activities designed for different groups. For seniors in the Afro-Caribbean community, there’s the Dutch Pot Lunch & Social Club which offers concerts, bingo, exercises, shopping trips, and arts and craft. Menm Bitem Menm Bagay is for Creole senior citizens and offers live music, cookery demonstrations, and social events. There are also community centers for South American, Jewish, African, European, East Asian, South Asian, as well as Western/Middle Eastern and Central Asian seniors.
Community centers were originally created to help black and brown communities form connections with other people who lived nearby. They were an important part of getting involved in the society that they had just moved to. It is now a lot easier for them to form these connections – the Internet helps with this – but community centers remain popular and it’s unlikely that they’ll disappear soon.