Growing number of people turn to senior centers for fun, family

Growing number of people turn to senior centers for fun, family
Published: Jul. 15, 2015 at 10:34 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 15, 2015 at 11:17 PM EDT
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JAMES ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Talks in Mount Pleasant another senior center passed first reading approval Tuesday night. In a council meeting in June, residents said the current center is at 95 percent occupancy.

It's part of a boom in senior centers across the Lowcountry where people like John Shealey have a home away from home.

At 92 years old, the James Island resident makes at least three weekly stops to the Lowcountry Senior Center on Riverland Drive, which welcomes adults age 50 and over to partake in an array of classes, exercise, and socializing opportunities.

"If I have any problems, I can forget them when I come here and enjoy the fellowship of the people here," he said.

Shealey, who lost his wife two years ago, joins more than 300 people who frequent the center daily.  Elizabeth Bernat serves as Executive Director over the James Island center, a role she'll soon fulfill in West Ashley, for a new center birthed through a partnership between Roper St. Francis and the City of Charleston.

Bernat credits the rising demand for senior centers to growth in the senior population, following the baby boom.

"We have this huge population of people looking for programs in the community," she said.

"A senior center is designed to serve its immediate population, or its immediate community.  We are too far for people in Mt. Pleasant or people in West Ashley to come to this center on James Island."

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, adults over 65 make up 13.7% of the state population.  The city of Charleston falls just below that number at 12.2%, mirrored by the town of Mt. Pleasant, also at 12.2%.

Tuesday, town officials passed first reading on a recreation bill to add additional activities specific to seniors, with talks of a new senior center.  Residents currently have access to the Mt. Pleasant Senior Center, at 840 Von Kolnitz Road.

"The thing is, we would be by ourselves, and this way, we make lots of friends," said Margaret Boast, a regular visitor at the James Island center.

Boast, also turned to the center as a way to heal, after losing her husband in February, following surgery complications.

"Where the magic really happens is the socialization," Bernat added.

Boast is currently enrolled in grieving classes, and has even signed up for speed dating.

"That should be a lot of fun," she joked.

Seniors have the option to join centers with an annual membership fee, while many activities are free to to the public.

"I believe activity bring longevity," Shealey said, who by the way is 92 years old, plus six months.

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