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Planning Recreation for Senior Adults
By: Bill Highsmith

Recreation for senior adults.it sounds simple enough. Just pull out a card table, slap on some cards or dominos, make a pot of coffee, and you're ready to go. Add a pool table for the men, and you are all set for a really exciting senior adult recreation program. Unfortunately, this is the idea of all too many people who plan for senior adults in our churches, and yet nothing could be further from the truth.

When planning recreation for today's senior adults, you will need to take a totally different view. Keep in mind the following four things.

1. Know what today's senior adults are like.
When we categorize senior adults, we usually mean those 55 years of age and older. Yet, all too many times, we only think about those who are 80 and older and who are not very active.

Senior adults today have been exposed to more than any other senior adults in our history. They have had more and more varied experiences and interests than senior adults in the past. They are in better health, live longer, are more active, have more financial resources, and are more diversified in all areas of life than at any time in history. If you expect their participation, your recreation approach for senior adults must be more active and more diversified.

2. Know the interest level of your senior adults.
Those interests will vary depending on your church and locality. You can know their interests by conducting a simple survey and by observing their interests. To have a true picture, encourage input on their part beyond the survey. Find out where they spend their time and efforts.

3. Know how to approach them with ideas.
Don't shoot yourself in the foot before you get started. For instance, most senior adults don't mind improvement, but they are turned off by the word "change." The more you get to know senior adults and the stronger your relationship with them becomes, the better you will be able to lead them. Talk with them, get to know them, and earn their confidence. Senior adults are not overgrown children; therefore, you cannot treat them as a youth or children's group.

4. Involve them in planning activities.
There is nothing like having ownership in something. Ownership leads to commitment. As you lead them in planning, both you and the senior adults have a better understanding of the activity or event, and you present a unified front when it is promoted. The follow-through is then so much greater.

So, what are appropriate activities for senior adults today? Here are several tried-and-proven recreational activities and events.

Golf Classes-Locate a retired golf pro or an excellent golfer in your church who would be willing to teach four to six weeks of golf classes. These weekly classes can be conducted inside a room of the church; winter is usually a good time. Both men and women can be involved. If the interest is there, and you have golfers who would like to advance, offer an advanced golf class.

Golf Tournaments-Two golf tournaments annually are great for your senior adults-one in the fall and one in the spring. This is a good inter-generational event as well as a good coed event. When ladies and younger people play in the tournament, the ladies would play from the ladies' tees, seniors from the seniors' tees, and the others from the white or regular tees. A scramble or "best ball" tournament works well.

Pool Tournaments-A one-day pool tournament draws interest, especially among men. Usually 8-Ball is played in a single elimination tournament, with a small trophy provided for the winner. You may want to schedule practice time ahead of the tournament, as many may not have played in some time.

3-on-3 Basketball-You may be surprised how many younger senior adults would enjoy a 3-on-3 basketball league. You won't need a large number to participate in order to assemble a good league.

Baseball Games-Senior adults love and understand professional baseball. A trip to see your seniors' favorite teams can become an annual event. This also goes for professional hockey, basketball, or football games. This can also be a good grandfather and grandson event or a father and son time.

Trips that are designed for fun, relaxation, and entertainment-with pre-arranged transportation, hotels, and meals-offer opportunities to singles, widows, or widowers who would not otherwise travel alone. These often otherwise unattainable opportunities encourage independence, companionship, and fellowship.

One-Day Trips-There are many places senior adults would enjoy visiting within a two-hour drive from almost anywhere in the United States . Historical sites, old homes, battlegrounds, political sites, industrial sites, special interest places, restaurants, educational exhibits, museums, natural areas, plants and factories, and others would be on your seniors' list of places they would enjoy. Adding a good lunch place completes the trip.

Two-Day and Three-Day Trips-Many senior adults who want just a little more than a one-day trip, but who don't want to be gone a week or more, enjoy one-night and two-night trips. Consider trips that are four to five hours away from home and places that would offer special interests or themes. Also consider historical places, a fall foliage trip, a spring fling trip to attend a conference, sports events, or a shopping spree.

One Week (or longer) Trips-This is a great way to reach younger senior adults, especially those senior adults who are 55 to 65 who will take vacation time. Favorite one-week and two-week trips for seniors include Williamsburg, Virginia/Washington, D. C.; Charleston, South Carolina/Myrtle Beach; Eureka Springs/Branson, Missouri; Hawaii; an Alaskan cruise; England, Scotland, and Wales; an eight-country European trip; and a Western United States/National Park trip.

Mission Trips-Senior adults can be involved in construction, Vacation Bible School , revivals, backyard Bible clubs, and other missions activities. These can be local, out of state, or international. The needs are great in all geographic areas.

Health and Fitness
Seniors enjoy fellowshipping with people they know or forming new friendships while improving their health.

Walking Club-A "striders club" is a great way to involve senior adults in health and fitness. They are more health conscious today than ever before, and many are on walking programs at the request of their doctors. You can establish a walking program in your church's family life center, at a mall, or at another safe place.

Senior Adult Exercise-Many senior adults participate in low-impact aerobics or chair aerobics for limbering and stretching exercises.

Health Programs-Fit 4 is a Christ-centered health program, a great way to lose weight, grow spiritually, and make new friends while engaging in a common cause.

One of the important needs of senior adults that churches can meet is socialization. Some suggested events:

* Valentine Lunch

* Everybody's Birthday Party Day

* Table Games Day at the church

* Chili Suppers after a Sunday evening service

* Men's Cake Bake and Ladies Ice Cream Social

* 4th of July Picnic

Arts and Entertainment
Many senior adults enjoy going to a dinner theater or to see a play. Perhaps they would even enjoy putting on a play or being part of a play or dinner theater at your church.

Crafts are another part of recreation. Senior adults enjoy participating in ceramics, stained glass projects, Christmas crafts, fall crafts, wood working, gardening, landscaping, and many other crafts.

As you plan, don't be limited by your own thinking or talents. That is why it is important to draw free-thinking, active, stable senior adults around you as you plan their recreation activities. They like action and like to put feet to their plans.

A must in planning recreation for senior adults is to follow through. Develop a "no cancellation" policy. It will build trust and credibility for your program.

Finally, promote, promote, promote! Make sure your people know what is happening.

In reaching out to them, the church has a lot to offer to an active senior adult. Through a recreation program, the church can meet seniors' spiritual, physical, social, and emotional needs. Recreation plus senior adults equals a great stability in our churches for the future.

Bill Highsmith is the director of recreation/activities/senior adults at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville . This article is courtesy of Lifeway Christian Resources.

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