By Alex Groves

Getting older can sometimes be tough—it can often mean increased doctor’s office visits, notable financial hurdles and feelings of loneliness.

South Orange County’s Senior Centers can be a great resource for aging. They not only give elders a chance to be part of a community but also give them the opportunity to get great nutrition, exercise and educational opportunities.

Picket Fence Media recently spoke with Senior Centers in San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano to learn about the programs they offer and how seniors can get involved with them.

Some of the programs are offered through partnerships with the nonprofit Age Well Senior Services, and some of the programs are unique to the senior centers themselves.

Dorothy Visser Senior Center in San Clemente

The Dorothy Visser Senior Center in San Clemente offers educational and assistance programs on Medicare, Social Security, taxes, technology and even genealogy.

In addition to educational programs, the center has activities designed to benefit visitors’ physical and emotional health.

The center has a gym, the Gary and Mary West Wellness Fitness Gym.

Beth Apodaca, director of the Dorothy Visser Senior Center, said the gym is always monitored to make sure people are exercising properly and no one is injured. Membership for the gym is $100 a year.

The center offers bingo games at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays with a $12 buy-in for 12 rounds. There are four cards played for each round.

Apodaca said the senior center is always looking for volunteers for its programs.

She said she encourages anyone who would like to volunteer or learn more about the programs to call the senior center at 949.498.3322.

The Dorothy Visser Senior Center is located at 117 Avenida Victoria in San Clemente.

Dana Point Senior Center

The Dana Point Senior Center offers Medicare counseling, legal consultations, visual consultations, flu shots and also provides transportation to and from the center for residents.

The center provides regular food distribution around 10 a.m. on Mondays through the organization Helping Hands Worldwide.

Site director Vana Murphy said seniors can pick up vegetables, fruits, bread and other ingredients that are donated to the organization from local supermarkets.

The items usually expire that day, so while the stores themselves may not be able to sell them, they can still be used by senior center visitors.

On Fridays around 10:30 a.m., the senior center also receives goods for distribution from Trader Joe’s, Costco and Panera.

“It really helps the seniors supplement their income because a lot of their money goes to housing and medicine,” Murphy said.

Dana Point’s Senior Center is also always looking for volunteers, Murphy said. She encouraged people who would like to visit the senior center to pick up an application, then turn it in.

The Dana Point Senior Center is located at 34052 Del Obispo in Dana Point.

San Juan Capistrano Senior Center

San Jan Capistrano’s Senior Center offers many of the same programs to older adults that the other senior centers do, including computer and technology classes, insurance counseling, tax assistance, free health and safety presentations and a support group for people suffering a loss. The center offers transportation to and from the center for residents.

They also offer many free classes such as hula dancing for beginners, stretch and tone exercises, card games and a “sit & fit” chair exercise class.

Heidi Ivanoff, Community Services Coordinator for the San Juan Capistrano Senior Center, said that sit and fit classes are becoming increasingly popular with aging people because they can do beneficial exercises without undertaking the sometimes difficult tasks of standing or getting up from a seated position.

The center will also be partnering with MemorialCare to purchase a ping pong table as another avenue to keep people active.

The Senior Center also partners with Costco and Trader Joe’s to receive surplus baked goods, including breads, cookies, pastries, bagels and other items.

Food from Trader Joe’s arrives every Monday, beginning at 8 a.m. and Costco items are distributed every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. while supplies last. Seniors are asked to take only two packaged items.

The center also receives food for distribution from the federal government’s surplus food program every third Thursday of each month. It receives pallets with vegetables and fruit, peanut butter, pastas, cereals and other staples.

People interested in volunteering for the center can call 949.443.6358.

The San Juan Capistrano Senior Center is located 25925 Camino Del Avion.

Congregate Meals

The senior centers in San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano all offer lunches as part of congregate meal program put together by Lisa Gibson, a dietician with Age Well Senior Services.

The lunches are served daily Monday through Friday, except for certain holidays. They usually come with an entrée as well as servings of fruit and vegetables.

For example, one October menu lunch consists of Salisbury steak with onion gravy, a baked potato, Brussels sprouts, rye bread, and a mandarin, strawberry and banana dessert.

The meals are available to seniors 60 and older; a $4.50 donation is suggested. However, those who are unable to pay are not turned away.

The meals are not only a way for seniors to get some great nutrition but also a chance for socialization.

Ivanoff said she’s seen many seniors who live at home with younger family members have a chance to interact with people from their own age group.

Sometimes that can take some coaxing.

“Their kids are the ones that are pushing them to get outside the home and have some experiences during the day,” she said.

Meals on Wheels

Age Well also coordinates Meals on Wheels through the area senior centers. The program has volunteers bring food to the homes of seniors with limited mobility or a lack of transportation.

Deliveries consist of three meals: one hot and ready-to-eat meal, a cold meal to eat later in the day and a breakfast meal for the next morning.

There’s a suggested $7.50 suggested donation associated with the Meals on Wheels programs at each of the three senior centers.

Murphy said bringing the meals to the seniors is not just a great way to make sure they get necessary nutrition, but also make sure they are doing okay.

She noted that there are times when a Meals on Wheels volunteer might be the only person a senior sees all day

“They go out to the home and they are able to see how that client is, and if there are any problems they can notify us,” she said. “We can call the police, or we can call a family member and let them know what is happening with that client.”

Educational Classes

All three senior centers offer free educational classes through Saddleback College’s Emeritus Institute. The classes vary at each of the locations.

For fall 2018, the San Clemente Senior Center is offering classes in intermediate oil and acrylic painting, beginning watercolor painting, balance and mobility, intermediate chair exercises, yoga fitness and a class on current issues in government.

The Dana Point Senior Center is offering classes in aerobics, art appreciation and issues in government.

The San Juan Capistrano Community Center offers classes in beginning sketching and a health and wellness class specializing in yoga.

People can take classes at any of the senior centers and are not restricted to the senior center where they live. However, Apodaca notes that there’s an expectation that people take the class for the whole semester.

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