Germantown: Center Promotes Positive Aging Through Programs

Senior citizens ballroom danced at the Center in the Park.]

Brianna Williams, intern at Center in the Park, filed name cards for the center's participants.

The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging funds many senior citizen centers throughout Philadelphia, but only one in Germantown.

Located at 5818 Germantown Ave., Center in the Park is a senior center that provides supportive services and activities that strive to enhance the personal growth of Philadelphia’s aging population. Since its founding in 1968, Center in the Park has been able to use positive aging programming to keep the elderly physically active and involved in their communities.

Program director Brannon Johnson said that the many programs give seniors a sense of normality in their lives. “[The seniors] come here for activities, they come here to work out and then they go out. They schedule their days just like [one] would at work,” Johnson said.

Johnson has been working with Center in the Park for four years and uses her position for more than just program implementation. “I’ve made life decisions based on conversations I’ve had in the hallways. The wisdom and the insight that [one] has access to is amazing,” Johnson said.

Ollie Barnett, ballroom dance instructor, instructed the seniors on the first dance routine.

Center in the Park has over 3,000 active members, aged 50 and older, who participate in activities and programs from yoga, Zumba and belly dancing to diabetes and chronic disease self-management. The programs offered by Center in the Park are based on building stronger and healthier bodies, creating a positive state of mind and ensuring that the aging enjoy a better quality of life. All members are provided assistance with health screenings, mental health therapy and also have access to an on-site exercise therapist.

“Center in the Park has over 100 different classes and activities that we run on a daily basis. We also have several different departments. We have our in-home department for members that cannot get out of their homes, we’re an energy center for people who need assistance with their energy, gas, electric et cetera. We then have our center services department for people that are coming [to the center] and want to partake in [positive aging],” Johnson said.

Mildred Wilson-Brown has been a member of Center in the Park for 15 years. “We have classes like Journey’s Way, it’s more like a mental health class. They used to have a fashion show and I used to model in it, but I just basically do line dancing. I do line dancing, so I figured ballroom dancing would be real exciting,” Wilson-Brown said.

Although ballroom dancing is a relatively new activity at Center in the Park, the class already has more than 15 participants. “Dance has always knocked down boundaries to me. It’s always been something that no matter who you are or where you are in your life, it’s something that can unify a people. Dancing has always been a cornerstone of Center in the Park,” Johnson said.

According to the Proposed Zoning Code & Older Philadelphians June 2011 report, Philadelphia has the highest proportion of older persons (60+) of any of the 10 largest cities in the United States. Brannon Johnson said that in order to stay relevant, Center in the Park has to be able to cater to the various generations of seniors who come to the center. “We have our members that have aged in place that are older and we have the younger boomer who wants different things. We actually are stepping up to the challenge of having to program for all of these different generations” Johnson said.

Senior citizens ballroom danced at the Center in the Park.

For the older seniors, many of whom are home-bound, Center in the Park provides in-home services. The In Home Support program was designed to give assistance to the elderly that continue to live in their homes independently. Members in this program are able to receive delivered meals and a senior companion. The senior companion is an adult who volunteers to assist the elderly in their homes with daily tasks and errands.

Center in the Park is able to service more than 6,000 seniors in the Northwest Philadelphia area, catering to the needs expressed by members. “I would say that [all of our programs are very beneficial]. I cannot pick out one thing that is more important. Our model is actually three circles that are interlocked because they are all important… and they all do something and one without the other [makes the whole thing kind of fall apart]. Mind, body and soul. All of these things need to be maintained in order for you to be well,” Johnson said.

Center in the Park is accredited by the National Institute of Senior Centers and Brannon Johnson tries to implement programs that are useful for the seniors. “There are very few limits on what I can do because positive aging is always evolving, it’s always changing, it’s always different every day. Whatever is happening in society is happening here,” Johnson said.

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