Senior Center sees membership spike

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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Officials at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center have received an early anniversary present: more members.

Though the center's 30th anniversary isn't until September, its total membership is more than 1,300 this year, up from 1,100 last year.

Participation in classes is also increasing, said Dianne Day, the head of the center's Steering Council.

Officials have seen so much interest, in fact, that instead of allowing people to sign up for classes whenever they receive the schedule in the mail, officials now have set starting dates to give everyone an equal chance at registration. Some classes still have waiting lists, and officials sometimes create additional sessions.

Though participation fluctuates regularly, Day called it a significant increase.

And the center, 28 S. Linn St., recently implemented a panel to further involve and recruit members.

The Senior Center Steering Council was established in June 2010, Day said. The council facilitates communication among various committees who work to increase membership, develop diverse classes, and maintain member-retention rates, she said.

"Any organization runs better when you have members that feel they have an active role in the decision making," Day said.

Rose Hanson has served on the Senior Center Commission Board since 2009. The commission acts as a governing board for the center, she said.

The 80-year-old has been a member at the Senior Center for 18 years and visits about five times a week, she said.

Some of her favorite activities include tai chi, line dancing, and performing concerts by Voices of Experience, a singing group.

Hanson said one of the biggest changes in the center is the number of classes offered. A wide range of activities and events are available for people of all interests, she said.

"Attendance is good," Hanson said. "Some classes are over-booked, so they have to offer it at different times to accommodate everyone."

For the spring session, the center offers more than 70 different classes and 13 performance groups, said Jay Honohan, the head of the Senior Center Commission. The center also offers various groups and interest clubs, volunteer opportunities, and services for legal and financial aid, he said.

The center is funding the additional members through membership fees of $25 to $60 per year, depending on the person's residency, Honohan said.

It also receives funding from Iowa City and Johnson County, for a total annual budget of around $750,000.

Various grants and gifts round out the remaining funds, he said.

Officials also created an endowment fund several years ago, Honohan said. Approximately $140,000 has been spent in the past five years to purchase exercise equipment and furniture, he said.

Though the center was not immune to budget cuts this year, the center is managing. And an increasing membership is helpful.

Gerald Pearson commutes to Iowa City every Thursday from his current home in Muscatine. But the 90 mile round-trip and the membership fee are worth it, he said.

"There's not much to do in Muscatine," Pearson said and laughed.

The 73-year-old lived in Iowa City most of his life until he moved away in 1990. Pearson's wife passed away in October 2010, and since then, he said, he's been "trying to figure out what to do with my life."

Pearson said he's always enjoyed music, and decided to join the Senior Center in February to participate in the choir. He sings bass or tenor and also plays a number of different recorders, he said.

"I'm usually dealing with music in one form or another," he said.

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