Senior Center...
To Change or Not To Change...
That is the Question

By Michele Scatena
City of San Ramon Parks & Community Services

Winter 2006
Volume 62, No. 1
Page 54


In park and recreation agencies throughout the state and country, senior center managers and directors have been discussing the same thing for several years now, “shall we change our name to accommodate the growing number of baby boomers?” Not all agencies will need to discuss this issue, as some have already changed their name, some oppose the name change and yet others are in heated debates with staff and community members as to whether or not they should remove the word “senior” from their building title.

As a board member for the CPRS Aging Services and Activities Section I was assigned the task of researching programming for the baby boomer. Over the last two years I have attended many seminars, workshops, and meetings with professionals from all over the country and it seems that no one can talk about boomers without also talking about the facilities and the name attached to it.

This article contains a compilation of comments heard from many senior center professionals over the last two years. It is designed to help management staff engage in a healthy debate regarding the name of the facility. It also contains suggested guidelines on how to proceed with a successful name change for your facility.

FOR the name change:

Facilities that have changed their name or are actively discussing a name change have done so for some or all of the reasons listed below:

  • “The boomer population will not enter my center because they feel the senior center is not the place for them. Even though I am offering programming that will attract them they can not get past the name on the door. I need to change the name in order to keep my attendance up.”
  • The boomer population is one of many large generational groups to participate in recreational programs. They are statistically a generation with the ability to afford a greater amount of recreational programming. “We should be doing everything we can, including adapting our centers and center names in order to draw this group in.”
  • “In reality we are already programming activities in the senior center in the off hours that are not related to seniors, thereby making the center more of a community center and not a senior center. So why not take the extra step and change the name.”
  • “Our facility is an ideal location for weddings and more formal rentals. However, we keep hearing that brides, in particular, do not want to list on their invitations that the reception is located at the senior center. We are loosing a great amount of revenue.”

OPPOSED to the name change:

Cities that have discussed the name change or know there is no need to discuss a name change have reached their decision in part to some or all of the reasons listed below:

  • “My city worked very hard to establish a senior center. After years of planning and discussions the older adults finally have a place to call their own. It would be devastating to the community if we even approached the idea.”
  • “The area of town my center is located in has a large population of older adults. Our city is no longer expanding and the chances of a large mass of younger adults moving in are slim. By keeping the name of the senior center we are best meeting the needs of our population.”
  • “We do offer programs at night and on the weekends for non seniors. The attendance in this programming is substantial and therefore shows us no need to change our name to increase attendance. We have not experienced anyone being “turned off’” by the name of our facility.”
  • “In order to meet the needs of all of our client room rentals we encourage everyone to utilize our facility’s full street address for their publicity needs. This decreases confusion on the participant’s part and the name of our facility never comes into play.”

If A Name Change Is Decided

If your agency has decided to move forward with the name change process, listed below are suggested guidelines for making the process as successful as possible for your department, your seniors and your community.

1. Gather Statistics/Study Trends

  • Research local census information for specifics on your community population.
  • Evaluate your Center’s attendance numbers and compare to statistics on how many potential seniors could be accessing the programs.

2. Conduct A Strategic Planning Process
(See CPRS Creating Community VIP Action Plan and CPRS Aging Section Strategic Planning for Senior Services 2001.)

Items to include in your strategic plan could include:

  • Demographics of your community and local trends and social issues
  • A review of collaborations, partners, competitors and gaps in service
  • A discussion of your strategies for designing your service to achieve specific goals and identify specific agency needs

3. Gain Advisory Board Support

  • Educate your Advisory Boards or Commissions over time as to statistics and pending changes/shifts in population.

4. Educate the Existing Senior Population

  • Have articles each month in the newsletter that talk about the trends of seniors; i.e. exercise, living longer, healthy lifestyles, seniors feeling younger than their age, etc.

5. Conduct Focus Groups, Surveys and Community Meetings

  • To determine whether you have “senior” support in the community for a name change and program focus
  • To develop name change choices and gather feedback
  • To discuss new programs and new “look” of center
  • To gain a recommendation that you can bring to your board, your department and your council

6. Receive Approval of Name Change

  • Make sure you have gone through your proper channels to have the name change approved

7. Introduce the New Name and Program Focus

  • Re-design Activity Guide that focuses on center
  • Change look, format and information in newsletter
  • Consider redesigning the inside of the center as well: consider new paint, carpet or furnishings
  • Update center’s Web site
  • Consider a kickoff event
  • Have programs, services, and facility changes implemented or ready to implement. You DON’T want to attract the younger senior and have them turned off on their first visit because there was nothing that interested them or the facility looked too “old senior” for their comfort

These guidelines are suggested ideas for consideration in conducting a name change process; the process may be different to reflect the community. You should utilize resource people who can help with conducting community meetings and research and educate your population at every step of the way. Don’t forget to listen to your seniors, your board, and your community so you don’t have surprises in the end. Finally use these resources available to you, the CPRS Creating Community VIP Action Plan and CPRS Aging Section Strategic Planning for Senior Services 2001.

Note to the readers: CPRS would like to hear from you regarding your experience in considering a name change for your senior center. Please share the good, bad and ugly so we may learn. Send your comments to

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