From chair volleyball to dulcimer lessons, Oakland County seniors find lots to do

When it comes to keeping active, Oakland County’s nearly half-million people ages 60 and up are a fortunate group. Virtually every municipality has a senior center, or even two, that offers communal meals, exercise classes, travel opportunities – and so much more.

“When they were created, senior centers were a nice place for those who were retired to gather with their peers. Then, as urban sprawl divided and disassembled families, it almost became a place of commiseration for people who never saw their kids or grandkids. That is where our programing started to work on keeping people busy, healthy and moving,” noted Heidi Bey, director of the Highland Activity Center in Highland Township, which offers a plethora of activities.

“We are a place to come out and socialize, to eliminate that commiserating by offering entertainment and friendship. Our demographic is age 50 to 102, so our programming is really diverse.”

Julie Edgar, communications specialist with the Oakland County Area Agency on Aging 1-B, the largest of Michigan’s 16 such agencies, said too many older people just don’t take advantage of all that’s out there.

“A lot of people don’t know we are here and a lot of people don’t want to know until they need us,” she said. “Our goal is keeping people in the community and out of nursing homes.”

There’s so much more than low-impact aerobics and knitting clubs at Oakland County’s senior centers. Here’s a sample.

Going mobile

Getting around can be one of the largest obstacles facing older folks, especially with Metro Detroit’s notorious lack of public transportation. The Oakland County Area Agency on Aging 1-B has made it a mission to help.

“It is very challenging to get around,” noted Roberta Habowski, the agency’s mobility project manager. “People are not aware of the transportation options in their area and how to use them.”

So last year, the agency started offering Travel Training classes that taught seniors how to use the public bus systems. After starting out in a classroom setting, students rode the buses to become familiar with how to pay the fare, transfer and navigate the system. The classes were so popular, teaching 160 people in nine sessions, they will be presented again this spring.

AAA 1-B also offers the MyRide2 program for seniors and those with disabilities who need transportation in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. That can include SMART buses, city-run shuttles and GoGo Grandparent, which works with car services like Lyft, don’t require a smartphone, and even notify family members when the client has safely arrived at their destination.

“We don’t supply the transportation directly but we find options,” said Habowski. “We don’t just give you phone numbers, we will really dive into your situation and your special needs to try to find the least expensive option. Last year we fielded more than 3,100 calls.”

Getting around can be a particular challenge, she said, for residents in communities that have opted out of SMART, which include Bloomfield Hills, Highland, Independence Township, Lathrup Village, Orchard Lake, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Waterford, White Lake and Wixom.

“We think of ourselves as a concierge service, helping people figure out how to cobble together rides to get from Point A to B to C,” said Julie Edgar, AAA1B’s communications specialist. “We also arrange for ADA-certified people to be picked up curbside.”
Learn more at myride2.com, or call (855) 697-4332.

Take a chair

Chair volleyball is great for upper body mobility, joint flexibility, hand-eye coordination and endurance. And, as they like to say at the Novi Civic Center, it provides more fun than you can possibly stand – while seated. Adults 55 and over and welcome on Tuesdays from 1:45-3 p.m. for this free activity that is played with a beach ball and 5 foot high net.

“You don’t have to be the most athletic person to play it, but it helps with your coordination and things of that nature,” said recreation supervisor Greg Morris. While the Novi squad occasionally competes with nearby communities like Milford, “It’s not meant to be taken seriously,” he assured.

Novi also just started offering pickleball, a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong and is, Morris noted, “one of the fastest-rising sports around.” Six-week sessions cost $30 and take place at the Practice Zone in Farmington Hills.

Visit cityofnovi.org, or call (248) 347-0400.

Let there be music

The Mountain Echo Dulcimer Troupe, which performs throughout the northern county area, meets on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. to practice and play at the Edna Burton Senior & Activity Center in Brandon Township. New members are welcome. Want to learn to play this stringed instrument? Arrive 15 minutes early and they’ll give you a lesson. Dues are $5 a year.

Visit brandontownship.us/senior-center, or call (248) 627-6678.

Here kitty, kitty

Thinking of getting a pet but not sure you’re up for the commitment? The Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center’s C.A.T.S. (Companion Animals Touching Seniors) program may be the purr-fect solution. They supply you a cat – and all the materials needed to care for it for a two-month period. After that, you can send it packing or give it a forever home. The only fee is $7.50 for a license.

Visit oakgov.com/petadoption, or call (248) 858-1070.

Doggone fun

Dogs get into the act at the Highland Activity Center each Friday at 10 a.m. when a local rescue group brings in friendly German shepherds for a few hours of visiting. The dogs learn to better socialize, which increases their chances of being adopted, while the seniors get the chance for some soothing puppy love. It’s a true win-win, said Director Heidi Bey.

“It’s been documented that petting a dog or a cat lowers blood pressure,” she said. “And hey, we all can use a little less stress in our world.”

Visit highlandtwp.net, or call (248) 887-1707.

LGBT support

Times have really changed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, but some in the older generation may still be uncomfortable reaching out. That’s especially unfortunate because statistics indicate that this population of seniors is the most likely to be socially isolated. SAGE Metro Detroit, a local affiliate of a national non-profit, advocates on behalf of this populace, collaborates with a number of local organizations (including AAA 1-B and Ferndale-based Affirmations), and offers a range of programs, including fitness and arts classes. The Friendly Caller Program, for instance, helps to alleviate loneliness in LGBT seniors with regular phone calls by volunteers.

Learn more at aaa1b.org or by calling the AAA 1-B at (800) 852-7795, or visiting SAGE at sagemetrodetroit.org or (734) 681-0854.

Tower of Babel

Have a hankering to perfect your foreign language skills? Groups devoted to German, Indian, Italian, Spanish, Polish, French and Chinese conversation meet at the Rochester Hills Older Persons’ Commission. In addition to art and pottery studios, there is also a woodshop, computer lab, guitar and ukulele clubs, gatherings for devotees of military history and tons of other activities at the center, which is one of Oakland County’s most impressive facilities for the over-50 set. Residents of Rochester Hills, Rochester and Oakland are automatically enrolled in the programs.

Visit opcseniorcenter.org, or call (248) 656-1403

Stay tech savvy

Don’t get left behind by today’s technology. Many of the county’s senior centers offer assistance in mastering your electronic gadgets and smartphones. Just a few examples: Auburn Hills’ Senior Citizen Services Department has a six-week introductory computer class for $35-$45 (auburnhills.org; (248) 248-370-9353); the Royal Oak Senior Center offers “Ask the Computer Lady!” on Tuesdays at 12:45 p.m. (romi.gov/356/Senior-Community-Center; (248) 246-3900); and Southfield’s Adult Recreation Center boasts “Help! I Have A Computer … and I Don’t Know What to Do Next!” (cityofsouthfield.com; (248) 796-4650).

And Finally …

Many people are giving up their telephone landlines to save money. If you need a free cellphone to use in an emergency, or know someone who does, call the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office at (248) 975-9700. (They also accept donations of unwanted phones.)

Joyce Wiswell is a Royal Oak-based freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in a variety of publications and platforms.

Photos by Steve Koss. Photos of chair volleyball courtesy of City of Novi.