What makes an older person a senior citizen? “Older” than whom?
Our city’s senior centers set the bar at 55 and welcome everyone that age and older. Berkeley boasts three city-sponsored senior centers open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. plus at least five others.
In 1966, 20 seniors gathered in two rented rooms at 1849 University Ave. to dedicate the city’s first senior center.
A cadre of volunteers, Portable Meals, the Japanese Seniors Program and minibus service quickly followed. In 1974 Henry Ramsey led a task force to plan and apply for federal funds to build the first senior center, and in 1979, the North Berkeley Senior Center opened – a 22,000 square feet, two-story building on a corner plot in the heart of Berkeley.
The NBSC’s programs and services have so prospered that it has become known as one of the most innovative and active centers in the Bay Area, attracting seniors from throughout Berkeley as well as the region. It even attracts international visitors and their leaders. Its Alternative Lifelong Learning program brings senior faculty and emeriti professors as speakers. Staff and volunteers annually produce a free Seniors’ Resource Guide. Exercise classes are the most popular at the NBSC – tai chi, line dance, tap dance, aerobics, yoga, dance practice. There are also trips, current events, Internet, literature.
Now 21 years old, the building is experiencing problems associated with aging! Transportation is another problem: parking is limited in the NBSC’s small lot and AC Transit has cut back the No.15 bus which runs to the NBSC’s door. Paratransit and taxis are not dependable.
The public is welcomed at meetings of the Berkeley Commission on Aging, which currently meets at the NBSC the third Wednesday of each month at 1:30 p.m.
South Berkeley Senior Center opened in 1972 in the McGee Avenue Baptist Church. It also provides a variety of free classes and social events attracting seniors of diverse backgrounds and interests. Computer technology and exercise classes are currently the most popular. The variety of services and programs, door-to-door outreach by staff, word-of-mouth, and the newsletter get people out to the SBSC. Social events include a professional band for birthday parties, and table and card games. Daily television viewing and weekly movies are held in the viewing room. Travel adventures are carefully planned with the best possible rates.
The Mercy Brown Bag Program is based at the SBSC, providing free groceries to Berkeley’s low-income seniors twice monthly. The City’s Office of Seniors Programs Office is located in SBSC library.
West Berkeley Senior Center
In 1990 West Berkeley Senior Center celebrated its tenth anniversary in its present location. It too offers a variety of free activities including billiards, bridge, whist, dominoes, pinochle, scrabble and bingo. Free health screenings include monthly blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes checks. Tests are also conducted for ear, eye, and foot problems. Special shows, presentations and cultural events are featured for Chinese New Year, Black History Month, Cinco de Mayo, Older Americans Month, birthdays and Christmas.
All the city centers offer hot lunches, celebrations, educational programs and van service.
Each Center has a large multipurpose room with a stage, TV lounge, library, billiard rooms, and a parking lot. All are wheelchair accessible. Multilingual-multicultural staffs provide counsel and referral in legal matters, taxes, Social Security benefits, housing, and health insurance. They are supported by volunteers and a peer-elected Advisory Council and produce a monthly newsletter.
Senior Power runs monthly in the Daily Planet. Dr. Helen Wheeler invites comments and suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a member of the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging, North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council, Berkeley Housing Authority, and is a former Vice Chair for Berkeley Commission on Aging.
• North Berkeley Senior Center 1901 Hearst, corner MLK, 94709. 644-6107. Suzanne Ryan, director. No. 15 AC bus.
• South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis, corner Ashby 94703. 644-6109. Silver Ward, director. No. 6 AC bus.
• West Berkeley Senior Center, 1900 6th St., 94710. 644-6036. Larry Taylor, director. No. 9 AC bus.
Other senior centers located in Berkeley are:
• Berkeley/Richmond Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut, 94709. 848-0237
• Chinese Senior Center, 2117 Acton, 94702. 548-5259
• Japanese-American Services of East Bay, 2126 Channing Way 94704. 848-3560
• New Light Senior Center, 2901 California 94703 549-2666
• St. John’s Senior Center, 2727 College Av. 94704. 845-6830