Senior centers are targeting men Programs tailored to attract more males to facilities

December 14, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

For years, it seemed, senior citizens centers could have hung out a "For Women Only" sign.

Not anymore.

From billiards to barbers, centers for seniors have launched all-out drives to lure more men by gearing more programs to them. Civil War history? Mostly men.

Computer labs? Mostly men.

Flavored vinegar-making courses? Half men.

In a state where about 44 percent of the 55-and-over population is male, an estimated 30 percent of attendees at senior citizen center programs are men, say local officials for aging. And that's an improvement.

"We are aware of the issue," said Arnold Eppel, deputy director of the Department of Aging in Baltimore County, where 137,000 residents 60 and older make it second only to Dade County, Fla., in senior citizen population.

"Sometimes men are reluctant to come to a senior center. They are concerned that it is mostly women, and they are afraid they are going to be overwhelmed. Guys like to hang out with guys," Eppel said.

On Friday, mostly male cue teams from three Anne Arundel County senior centers held their first tournament. To the winner -- South County Senior Center's team -- went bragging rights and a 2-foot-tall trophy that the members elbowed each other to hold for a photograph.

But the point was larger, as they laughed and jabbed one another with cues.

Al Guiffreda, 70, of Edgewater, who displayed a winning touch with bank shots, began making occasional forays to South County Senior Center four years ago to shoot pool, after his health kept him closer to home.

Now he is a "union member," the term for those who are at the center five days a week.

"I enjoy shooting pool, and I enjoy shooting the breeze. We talk about just anything and everything.

"Now, I like the camaraderie. I've made some friends here, like James," he said, motioning to James Shorter, 77, of Deale. "We have coffee, we socialize.

We go to Kmart."

That's what advocates for older adults want to see.

"What we are trying to do is encourage the men to come to the senior centers," said Joe Hatcher, the county police liaison to the elderly and a tournament organizer. "It's as much for the camaraderie as for anything."

Much of the focus on isolation of older adults and its attendant problems is on women because there are more of them. But older men often are less able to fend for themselves on the domestic and social fronts, grow starved for adult male companionship as friends and former co-workers move or die, and can become as isolated as older women. They are less likely than women of their generation to be joiners, experts say.

"They tend to be less social," said Connie Corley Saltz, professor of social work and a specialist in aging at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. "Their identity was tied into their work or their professional life, so their leisure activities have not been that well developed."

Senior center operators are using two tactics, hoping if they snare men for one event, the same men will find something else of interest and bring a friend. In recent years, they have added programs aimed at men in areas such as personal finances and men's discussion groups, and they are expanding existing programs to include men's issues.

The Anne Arundel County Department of Aging hopes to bring a high school student barber from the Center of Applied Technology South to trim men's locks at the nearby South County Senior Center for a nominal fee, starting next year.

"One thing we do know about older men is that they will get their hair cut, what is left of it. That is something we know will attract more males," said Charles Lawrence, assistant director of the Anne Arundel agency. "They can sit and chat while they get their hair cut. Once we get them in for one thing, maybe we can get them in for something else."

Dominick "Dan" Santarpia, 66, of Edgewater, reluctantly accompanied his wife, Antonia, to a music course at the South County center nearly three years ago. He wouldn't have returned but for the pool tables. Then came a history course. He's there a few times a week, is part of the billiards team, and has made friends, he said.

The marketing has to be just so. Hence the title, "Sensuality After 60," for a sex and health class Baltimore County will offer next year with Franklin Square Hospital. People are encouraged to attend with a partner in hopes that men will participate.

"It depends what you title things. If we call it 'All about a Prostate Screening,' how many people do you think are going to come in?" Eppel said.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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