Key Takeaways

  • By hosting roundtable discussions, Willowbrook Senior Center gained valuable insight into what members want and need when it comes to improving health and wellness.

  • The center's focus on nutrition includes donated fruits and vegetables, transportation to a local farmers market, and cooking demonstrations and workshops.

  • Next up for the center: a caregivers cafe and harvest festival.

Willowbrook Senior Center is listening to members when it comes to health improvement.

The center,  part of Los Angeles County Aging and Disability Services, recently participated in a pilot program with the National Council on Aging and hosted a community roundtable with 30 older adults. The topic of discussion was healthy weight and the barriers and challenges of living with overweight and the chronic disease obesity. Since then, the center has taken a fresh start in the community by reimagining some of their programming for older adults, with a greater focus on health issues.

“It was perfect timing,” according to Willowbrook Senior Center Director Saundra Hamilton. Since that roundtable, the senior center has been making new relationships. The center even held a second roundtable this summer, featuring a physician assistant who hit it off with the older adult audience and has been working with them and providing services by request.  

What is the history of Willowbrook Senior Center?

Willowbrook Senior Center (WSC), which opened in 1979, serves adults age 55 and older. Some of them are unhoused, some of them are struggling, and many are caregivers to their families and spouses. The center serves the Willowbrook, Athens, and Westmont unincorporated areas and other neighboring communities in LA County. The multi-purpose center is designed to provide programs and services such as congregate meals, exercise classes, dance classes and health screenings. 

How is Willowbrook Senior Center promoting health and wellness?

In addition to hosting the health-promoting roundtable discussions, the senior center also held a workshop on nutrition and overall wellness, and one of the speakers brought fresh fruits for sampling. Since then, Hamilton has been able to find a vendor to donate organic fruits and vegetables for the senior center. They are working through the logistics of delivering the food. They also received and distributed farmers market vouchers for fresh, nutritious, locally grown produce, and arranged for transportation to take senior center participants to the local farmers market. WSC plans to continue its focus on food and cooking.

As the community is becoming more conscious of their health and paying attention to these issues, WSC is getting a reputation for making new connections with practitioners, physical trainers and even a chef who demonstrated simple adjustments to make traditional foods healthier. He created a new version of black-eyed peas that was a big hit.

WSC offers blood pressure screenings and participates in a hypertension project, another important aspect of monitoring health. A registered nurse comes in through the county two times per month.

What's next for Willowbrook Senior Center?

The next endeavor for WSC is launching a caregiver café, to create a safe place and sounding board for older adults who are caregivers for their spouses and loved ones.

“This came up at the roundtable because people who are caregivers are under a lot of stress and often turn to stress-eating,” said Hamilton. They said they were in need of a place for respite care. An example: a son taking care of his dad, who came to the meeting because his dad has a weight problem, something that impacts his ability for daily activities.

“The reality is, we learned so much about what to address for our community, by having that first roundtable discussion,” said Hamilton. "We have...more interest in health since the first roundtable. We are the resource center for the community, and we are keeping a timeline of what’s been happening since then."

Although it’s a challenge to get older adults to journal, Hamilton is planning to engage a group of them to tell their personal stories. She says she wants to capture where they started and where they are going. This has been especially important for 2023 as the community fully emerged from socially isolating themselves during the pandemic and the senior center was shut down. 

Another enriching activity recently held at WSC involves the health of the broader community called, LA vs Hate, Summer of Solidarity. This project was designed to support the residents of LA County, inviting all people to take a stance against hate. WSC was given the opportunity to install a mural that depicts the theme of love and anti-hate, celebrating Black community and culture. Hamilton is planning a Harvest Festival in November where city officials will participate to celebrate the senior center’s role in the LA vs Hate project.

"I’m a senior running a senior center," Hamilton says. "Knowing is everything. Knowledge is power. We have to keep going, we have to advocate."

When older adults walk in Hamilton says, “What can we do today to lift your spirits?”

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 Willowbrook Senior Center. Find out how you can become a NISC Affiliate today.

Photo of  healthy weight roundtable courtesy of Willowbrook Senior Center