Russian River Senior Center

It may not seem like there’s any shortage of older folks shuffling around the lower Russian River, so why aren’t more of them using the services at the Russian River Senior Center?

That question will be on the table next week when the senior center launches a “re-envisioning” of its role for river residents reaching the age — approximately 60 — when, no matter how young they feel, they’re considered seniors.

 “A lot of people think the word ‘senior’ is bad,” said Emily Heinzelman, the Russian River Senior Center’s program director. “I think people have the misconception that we’re all sitting around here in wheelchairs and drooling. It’s not like that,” said Heinzelman.

 “Our center is very active. We have yoga, dancing and trips to San Francisco, junior college courses and art.”

The center will host its first focus group to “re-envision our purpose” next Monday, May 13, said Heinzelman, in an email inviting river residents to participate. “We are looking for people that don’t come to the senior center but are 55 plus,” said Heinzelman.

“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.”

For those unfamiliar with what the river senior center offers, “We want people to envision an active lifestyle,” said Heinzelman. “It’s not the beginning of the end.”

The Monday, May 13, meeting starts at 1 p.m. at the Guerneville Senior Center on Armstrong Woods Road. A second meeting planned at the center on Thursday, May 23, starts at 11 a.m.

Two years ago the River Senior Center began a membership program, with an annual membership fee of $25, which included access to the center and eligibility for discounts on services, trips and special projects. The center now has a paid membership of around 200 people, said Heinzelman.

Membership has risen slowly, said Heinzelman. “You don’t have to be a member to attend this month’s upcoming workshops.”

The River Senior Center opened in 1988 and has been the centerpiece of lower Russian River senior support services, offering individual case management help, meals on wheels and extensive resource referrals.

 “For members and many daily drop-in visitors, the center offers a place to meet, play and work with each other,” says the senior center website.

“Many seniors attend the center regularly, participating in art and aerobic classes, playing bingo or bridge. Others come and enjoy a coffee and stay for lunch.”

Seniors who become members enjoy the full benefits, including the following:

• A drop-in social center open four days a week (Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.);

• Priority registration and discounted rates for programs, events and trips;

• A variety of free or discounted activities for many interests and hobbies;

• A free lending library and a free medical lending closet (walkers, wheelchairs and more).

 Every Wednesday and Friday, the center offers nutritious lunches, both meat-based and vegetarian, provided by the Council on Aging. The lunches are served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Once a month the senior center distributes packages of food provided by the Sonoma County Food Bank for low-income seniors.

The center also offers organizes activities and classes to promote physical, mental and social wellness, including tai chi, gentle yoga, Spanish classes, computer classes, stitchery circles, art classes, folk dancing, movies, table tennis, bridge club, bingo, golf at Northwood, field trips and holiday feasts.

The membership fee is $25, with reduced fees and scholarships available for anyone who cannot afford the fees. For more information, contact the Center Manager, Vicki Halstead, at (707) 869-0618 or email her at:

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