Where seniors keep busy

Centers: 18 county sites keep the largest elderly population in the state informed, active and entertained.


September 26, 2004|By Natasha Lesser | Natasha Lesser,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Wanda Litch's students are having trouble with attachments. Not of the emotional sort; it's e-mail that is giving them trouble.

Litch is teaching a group at the Catonsville Senior Center how to use the Internet. After a lifetime of talking on rotary telephones and sending letters, seniors are learning how to navigate the world of e-mail and instant messaging.

Her students have mastered how to send e-mail. But they're having trouble with the more elaborate task of attaching files.

Learning to use the Internet is one of the many activities that the county's nearly 140,000 seniors - the largest elderly population in the state, according to the county Department of Aging - are pursuing. Wood carving, tap dancing, painting and pilates are some of the other classes available at the county's 18 senior centers.

"The senior centers are a destination point," said Arnold Appel, director of the Department of Aging, which oversees the centers.

Recently at the Liberty center, about 15 women attended Gwen Miller's needlecraft class.

Miller, 72, who retired as assistant director of the center about nine years ago, runs the class. Miller says the class is as much about socializing as it is about learning needlecraft.

She points to a woman at the far end of the table.

"Her husband just died," Miller says. "She needs the socialization."

Projects take weeks.

"So we talk in between," says Gene Simmons, 80.

The centers have small paid staffs, but they are largely run by seniors who volunteer to teach classes, work in the office or run the kitchen.

Many volunteers put in hours a week. Gloria Haran, 86, works at the Pikesville Senior Center every day. She is in charge of the center's all-kosher kitchen, works in the Chit and Chat Cafe and greets visitors at the front desk. When she is not working, she takes Yiddish and exercise classes. "It's our home away from home," Haran says.

Community College of Baltimore County instructors also teach several courses. Subjects include creative writing, the psychology of ethnic conflict and the history of film production in Maryland. Towson University and the College of Notre Dame hold classes for seniors, too.

Litch, 81, says she loves the music appreciation class at the Catonsville center. Once a week, her class listens to classical, opera and chamber music and learns to analyze the tunes.

Litch, who retired as assistant to the dean of arts and sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 1994, enjoys classical music.

Now she is learning to understand the ideas behind the music. Cliff Alper, a retired Towson University music professor, teaches the course through the CCBC Senior Institute.

"It's very nice," says Alper, "teaching people who have life experience."

Litch also helps run the Catonsville center's computer lab. Litch was never a computer whiz, but she taught herself the basics by reading and practicing in the lab. "Technology and I were never very friendly," says Litch, "but it was the 21st century, and I couldn't go on being a dinosaur."

Litch also belongs to an investment club and a book club, attends the opera and travels frequently.

"I decided that while I'm still mobile I'm going to spend all the money I have," Litch says. "You don't know what is going to happen tomorrow." Through trips organized by the senior centers, Litch has traveled extensively.

Others, like Eddy Kramer, 90, enjoy ballroom dancing. Kramer, who organizes ballroom dancing Wednesday afternoons at the Catonsville center, attributes his good health to the activity. Line dancing, yoga and tai chi are some of the other exercise classes offered.

Seniors can also play in sports leagues.

YMCA branches in the county also offer discounted memberships for seniors. Some seniors, like 88-year-old Eugene Shaver, find that athletics are their forte. Shaver, a retired manager at Westinghouse, never ran track in high school or college. But over the past four years, Shaver has become a champion of the older set, winning 88 medals in everything from the 100-meter to the 1500-meter race-walk in the Senior Olympics.

The centers also offer lectures, discussion groups and counseling on health-related subjects to seniors and their caretakers. English as a second language and adult literacy classes are taught at the Catonsville center, which has a large Russian population. Mentally and physically challenged seniors are aided through a program called the Center Connection.

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