Russian River Senior Resources Center

REFLECTION — Russian River residents were invited to help re-envision the role of the Russian River Senior Resources Center last week. Pictured (from left to right) are Scott Kersnar, Darlene Kersnar, Vicki Halstead, Kristin Thurman and Rhian Miller, plus two identified guests.

What’s old age like at the river nowadays? Do you hole up alone and wait for the end? Or get out and move, part of the action?

Either way you may find kindred spirits at the Russian River Senior Resource Center now headquartered in a former Chinese restaurant on Armstrong Woods Road in Guerneville.

“I can remember when this place was Charlie Wong’s,” the Chinese diner in the 1970s, said Guerneville resident Darlene Kersnar as she joined several river residents on the center’s deck last week to talk about what the senior center does well and what it could do better.

“Relevance” was one word that Senior Center Services Director Emily Heinzelman chalked up on a comments list at the re-envisioning workshop.

The senior center has been branching out with practical resources such as free rides to medical appointments and grocery shopping. Weekly calendar activities range from the typical bingo and birthday parties to rounds of golf at Northwood and opportunities for healthy group walks. Culinary students prepare twice-weekly lunches in the center’s new commercial grade kitchen.

Questions about the changing perception of “seniors” and whether the name senior center connotes images of an old folks’ day care center were also part of last week’s discussion. Some said the senior center label has historically brought to mind “old people in wheel chairs trying to pass time,” said Monte Rio resident Kristin Thurman.

If “senior” implies a handicap maybe the center’s name should be changed, participants suggested last week. Something like “elder center” or just “community center” might serve, with an emphasis on resources and activities for all ages.

“What we’re saying essentially is it’s already a community center,” said Darlene Kersnar.

“A lot of this might have to do with how you brand it,” said Thurman.

“We do have weddings here, receptions and celebrations of life,” said senior center Director Vicki Halstead. The Pegasus Theater group and the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the gay non-profit fund-raising project, both use the center’s historic Marshall House as a meeting place. Local high school culinary students have been preparing lunches in the center’s recently remodeled kitchen, and area chefs have been cooking there and serving meals at the center’s “pop up” restaurant events.

Suggestions last week included more frequent use of the center’s kitchen for gatherings like the Monte Rio Supper Club dinners, now held in the Monte Rio Community Center, where guest chefs prepare dinner and dessert menus for $15 and diners may bring their own wine and glassware. The monthly Monday night gatherings, sponsored by the Friends of Monte Rio, draw upward of 80 to 100 people. “It’s packed,” said Scott Kersnar.

Emily Heinzelman, the River Senior Center’s program director, said last week’s workshop, the second of two, was basically a call for suggestions on how to “freshen up” the river senior center that opened in the 1980s as a program of West County Community Services. (It was then called River Community Services.) The center is funded with the help of government grants covering services such as case management to help seniors remain in their homes, meals on wheels programs, counseling, and financial and medical resource referrals.

“We are looking for people that don’t come to the senior center but are [age] 55-plus,” said Heinzelman, in an email invitation.

“There are a lot of people turning 60 who still feel young and vibrant,” said Heinzelman. “We’re looking at how to get them to the center and see what they want.”

Monte Rio resident Peter Andrews said he’s not a member yet, but at age 81 he’s thinking about joining. He supports efforts to repurpose the senior center facilities and services, said Andrews. “They probably do need some new types of things,” to accommodate “the new seniors” turning 55 or 60 and remaining active, said Andrews.

“There are always the old seniors who remember World War Two,” said Andrews. “They’re a different group. There’s a whole new group coming up. That’s what they need to be preparing for.”

“I think it’s a good time to expand their horizons,” said Andrews, regarding the re-envisioning effort. “They’ve got a lot of faculties and lot of resources. They should be looking to a younger crowd and appealing to them.”

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