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Hackensack Senior Center expanding membership: Ages 21 and older can join

The Hackensack Senior Center is working to expand its membership, including a policy change that now allows members age 21 and older to join. This change to the center's bylaws is a result of a community effort to keep the center open. "Right now...

The Hackensack Senior Center is working to expand its membership, including a policy change that now allows members age 21 and older to join.

This change to the center's bylaws is a result of a community effort to keep the center open.

"Right now we weren't getting any members, so the few of us that were officers decided we couldn't keep going that way," said senior center secretary and treasurer Joan Johengen. "We brought it up that we would probably be closing the center as of the first of May and these people came in and said, 'If it is OK, we would like to see if we can reorganize this and give it a new revisioning'."

Theresa Eclov, Faith in Action for Cass County director, was a member of the committee that undertook the effort to save the center.

"I knew last fall that the senior center members were looking for more, new members and members that would be willing to take on a leadership role with the senior center," Eclov said. "They were struggling. People weren't signing up or jumping up and down and waving their arms to get involved. So, they said if they couldn't find anyone to take charge and carry it on that they would close after tax season."

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Eclov said Faith in Action uses the senior center for many of its adult-oriented activities, and she considers the facility an important resource, especially in a county where the population of 65 or older individuals has grown beyond 24 percent, according to Eclov.

"This is a resource for the community and it's too important," Eclov said. "Our Faith in Action program uses that building for various volunteer functions every year and it's just a great place to set up trainings and meetings and meet with seniors in the area."

With approval from the senior center members, Eclov and a committee formed to re-envision the center and increase its usage. They used a grant from the Initiative Foundation to have a community mailing and host a community meeting for brainstorming. They also used those funds to hire a consultant.

Several ideas resulted from the meetings and the consultant. Among the first changes, and most notable, was the change in bylaws lowering the minimum membership age to 21 in an attempt to catch new members when they are young.

"We thought we should open it up to 21 or older to get them interested in the idea that maybe they won't join now but we can regroup it so there is more for people of that age so that when they get up to the senior age, then they would have this in the back of their mind and be familiar with it and maybe more or less join when they get to that point," Johengen said. "It's kind of a future looking deal."

Part of the idea in expanding the age allowance was that by avoiding references to old age, they might be able to get more age conscious members to join, especially if they join at a younger age.

"One of the big barriers toward membership in the past has been the whole concept that nobody wants to be a 'senior,' so we have to get rid of that label," Eclov said. "Maybe the focus will be on older adults, but why can't it be open to general community as well. I think part of the theory there is that if you have someone that becomes a member to be part of the community and use the space, we can make the connection while they are younger and by the time they are 60 they don't care if they are a senior or not."

Eclov said this is a fairly common approach in other communities that are also reviving their senior centers.

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Perhaps the biggest change will be a change in the board, because the board working to reshape the center will be all new members. New members and leadership, they hope, will reinvigorate the center.

"Things can't go on as they have been," Eclov said. "There's been no marketing. None of the board is on computers, so there has been no website or Facebook and no email. That can't continue. We need to move that forward and bring it into the 21st century. We need new leaders willing to do that. We did have eight or 10 people step up at the meetings and volunteer. It looks like there will be a new board and slate of officers for the board of directors, and they will be nominated at the next membership meeting (April 21), then voted in at the May 5 annual meeting."

From that point on the new board will be responsible for determining the new direction of the center. New ideas discussed so far have included the possibility of staffing the center for "drop-in" times, hosting a wifi hotspot during the winter, holding adult education and community education classes and offering the meeting space to groups. Changes may also include a change for the center's name.

"I just hope we get enough people to come in and join with us with things we hope to be able to come up with," Johengen said. "Prospects look good right now for what I can see."

Related Topics: HACKENSACK
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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