The New Neighborhood Senior Center: Redefining Social and Service Roles for the Baby Boom Generation

The New Neighborhood Senior Center: Redefining Social and Service Roles for the Baby Boom Generation

The New Neighborhood Senior Center: Redefining Social and Service Roles for the Baby Boom Generation

The New Neighborhood Senior Center: Redefining Social and Service Roles for the Baby Boom Generation

Synopsis

In 2011, seven thousand American "baby boomers" (those born between 1946 and 1964) turned sixty-five daily. As this largest U.S. generation ages, cities, municipalities, and governments at every level must grapple with the allocation of resources and funding for maintaining the quality of life, health, and standard of living for an aging population.
In The New Neighborhood Senior Center, Joyce Weil uses in-depth ethnographic methods to examine a working-class senior center in Queens, New York. She explores the ways in which social structure directly affects the lives of older Americans and traces the role of political, social, and economic institutions and neighborhood processes in the decision to close such centers throughout the city of New York.
Many policy makers and gerontologists advocate a concept of "aging in place," whereby the communities in which these older residents live provide access to resources that foster and maintain their independence. But all "aging in place" is not equal and the success of such efforts depends heavily upon the social class and availability of resources in any given community. Senior centers, expanded in part by funding from federal programs in the 1970s, were designed as focal points in the provision of community-based services. However, for the first wave of "boomers," the role of these centers has come to be questioned.
Declining government support has led to the closings of many centers, even as the remaining centers are beginning to "rebrand" to attract the boomer generation. However, The New Neighborhood Senior Center demonstrates the need to balance what the boomers' want from centers with the needs of frailer or more vulnerable elders who rely on the services of senior centers on a daily basis. Weil challenges readers to consider what changes in social policies are needed to support or supplement senior centers and the functions they serve.

Excerpt

As I write this preface in March 2014, after the body of the book has been written, senior centers remain in the midst of great change. the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA), delayed over 2011–2013, has not yet happened but appears to be gaining renewed momentum. Senior nutrition program funding—a mainstay of centers—remains dependent on states’ funding reserves yet has had to endure a recent political impasse that briefly shut down the federal government. Still, despite delays and cuts, the oaa holds great promise to expand the group of older persons reached by centers. Also, centers can now “modernize”—whatever that may come to mean.

I did not begin to study a senior center to talk about meta–policy changes. This work started in 2008 as a simple summer project; I wanted to examine how senior centers might affect older persons’ lives. I hoped to interview center participants and see how a group of elders in Queens, New York, viewed their senior citizens’ center (as they were still called at the time). What some may think of as a quaint setting with bingo playing and “little old ladies” eating a group meal was definitely not the case. Yes, I cannot lie, there was bingo, and congregate meals were served, but a fuller picture of the world of the center truly opened up to me. It became so much larger than the four walls with the check-in and sign-in sheets, meal tickets, and holiday parties. As the center, like many others in New York City, began to close, or be shuttered, as this process is often described, a new world of politics and infrastructure with players and agents presented itself to me. I became an observer of a larger process, and the scope of my ethnography expanded.

This book gave me the space to explore, from many vantage points, facets of what a senior center is and where centers currently sit in our society. I wanted to understand how projections about the (almost mythological) baby boomers were affecting the real, lived situation of persons sixty-five and older.

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