Key Takeaways

  • This Baltimore County, Maryland, senior center participants are part of a key Member Council to ensure programming and events reflect what the members truly want at their center.

  • Sharing space with the local library and recreation center gives the senior center broader reach and a chance to offer more diverse activities.

Whether it is by empowering members to become a part of the member council, members supporting members by providing a last-minute ride to doctor appointments, or creating connection with intergenerational opportunities within Baltimore County, Maryland, Arbutus Senior Center clearly shows that their members matter and are supported by their community in both growth and friendship.

“The folks coming here get an opportunity to matter, they come here to give back, to connect with one another, and learn themselves in a new way,” said Arbutus Senior Center Director Alice Donahue. “It's like home away from home. It's a place where you belong, where you are connected, where you have help, and can be helpful.”

What is the history of Arbutus Senior Center?

Baltimore County Senior Centers first opened in the early 1970s. In 2011, the Arbutus Senior Center opened as the 21st senior center run by the county to meet the demand for senior centers in the area.

Even Arbutus Senior Center’s location sets the tone for a sense of community: it shares building and parking lot space with the public library and the local recreation center, establishing a community before people even step through the door.

The staff at the senior center say that is has been very beneficial for their members to share space with both additional entities to broaden their reach.

The library brings a wider demographic to the space. Members of the senior center visit the library to read out loud to children. The library reciprocates the support by marketing the senior center’s programs and participating in events like craft shows.

The county recreation center holds most programming in the evening and weekends, so through a partnership, the senior center can expand their programming by using the recreation center space for activities during the day. The additional space provided by the recreation center allows for the senior center to run pickleball, basketball, and line dancing. Without this partnership, the senior center would be limited on programming due to the size of the space and “you can’t do anything without pickleball,” joked Donahue. “The seniors really appreciate having senior play specifically, so they can compete against their peers.”

Who comes to the Arbutus Senior Center?

Members of the Arbutus Senior Center can attend all Baltimore County Senior Centers (Baltimore County uses the MySeniorCenterTM platform to allow members of all 21 centers to visit others).

Typically, many members of the Arbutus Senior Center attend the two that are closest. There is no residency requirement, so sometimes Arbutus is visited by people from other Maryland counties or Pennsylvania. With no residency restriction, anyone age 60+ or the spouse of a member can create a lasting impact as part of the Arbutus Senior Center community.

What happens at Arbutus Senior Center?

Donahue says members are most interested in craft activities and physical activities (pickleball, dance, aerobics). Then they go straight from that into knitting group, Cricut crafting group, and greeting card making. They enjoy the crafts and each other’s company so much that even in the summer when there wasn’t official programming, they tended to come to the center at their typical time and craft with one another.

Arbutus Senior Center was recently the site of a one-day pilot program in partnership with the National Council on Aging. On May 24, 2023, the center hosted a Bone Health Educational Event providing a lecture from a professional medical science liaison from Amgen and a discussion lead by the senior center director. Forty-four attendees joined for the afternoon of knowledge, questions, and conversation.

Donahue shared that Arbutus’ members are very interested in learning which makes their center ideal for a pilot program like this one.

“They're always willing to try something new, and they always want to know what they can do for themselves,” Donahue said. “So when we present something that gives them information about how they can take care of themselves, what they can be doing to be well, then, they definitely show up for that.”

As programming comes together at Arbutus Senior Center, one strategy they use to ensure what’s offered is what their members are looking for is to tap into the center’s member council to ensure the member voice is heard.

What is the Arbutus Senior Center Member Council?

Empowering their members is a crucial part of Arbutus Senior Center as they continue to create community. In Baltimore County, each senior center has its own internal nonprofit called their “council.” The members of these councils play a role in fundraising, programming decisions, and motivating fellow members. These councils help ensure senior center programming and events reflect what the members truly want at their center. Meetings of the council take place once per quarter, and all members are encouraged to join to learn more about the happening at the center.

The Arbutus Senior Center Council is made up of all senior center members. For the council's 15-member board of directors, members are voted on once per year. To identify potential board members, Donahue and the board take notice of senior center participants who:

  • Are involved at the center
  • Are eager for additional engagement
  • Work collaboratively with others
  • Have a skill for making things happen

Donahue and the board then encourage these members to put their name forward to be voted onto the board. To strengthen their relationship with the public, three members from the larger community sit on the board of directors. They keep the senior center connected to the larger community by helping with publicity, identifying potential fundraisers, boosting involvement in community events, and creating a lasting conversation about the services offered at Arbutus Senior Center.

What’s next for Arbutus Senior Center?

When Donahue thinks about the future of Arbutus Senior Center, one word comes to mind: “growth.” Growth in programming, growth in community, and growth personally within the members.

The center is seeing more numbers of older adults signing up, and as that happens, the focus is to continue to diversify programming, making sure to support different interests and provide learning opportunities. To the Arbutus Senior Center, modernizing means continuing to be aware of what is new, and adapting with flexibility to changes, while maintaining the strength of community.

Still not a member of the National Institute for Senior Centers? Join today, membership is free.

If your center has engaged in a recent study or assessment or is trying out some new programming approaches, we’d love to hear about it. And if you haven't already, we'd encourage you to join the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Free to all senior centers (and their personnel), NISC supports senior centers with best practices and innovations in programming, as well as networking and training opportunities. Ask for help, leverage NISC resources, or share your successes like the Arbutus Senior Center. Find out how you can become a NISC Affiliate today.