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CENTERS OFFER PIECE OF ACTION, NOT JUST PEACE, QUIET

Cliff Greenwood is a busy man. At 75, he loves to ski and ride his bike. He's an avid watercolorist who teaches. And he's a waiter at Central City Multipurpose Center, where he also participates in exercise classes.

Greenwood is one of dozens of "senior citizens" who shatter the picture of a senior citizen center as a place to go when you're too old to be active."A center is really the link between persons accessing the (service) system when they're well and staying in when they become frail," said Karmen Rowse, advocacy specialist with Salt Lake County Aging Services. "People come in for classes, tours and to volunteer, and tend to stay with it as they become more frail and participate in services."

They always have been social centers. Increasingly, they are wellness centers.

"Older people come in to meet more people and make new friends. When a man retires, he typically loses all his friends. If his wife dies, he's really alone. An older woman has typically been alone eight hours a day," Rowse said.

The centers serve both "young-old" and "old-old." "The young ones are more health conscious. They want special education as opposed to arts and crafts. They're more specialized because they are a population that has seen more change and technology and wants more."

The older participants are more interested in ceramics, day trips and socialization. They play cards and talk. They're also more likely to take advantage of shopping services, Rowse said.

There's not a lot of overlap in activities between those under 75 and those over 80.

"I think the stereotypes are changing," Rowse said. "Society is starting to see two classes of elderly. Up to age 80, many are not frail. Then it becomes more visible."

Centers use volunteers of all ages to provide everything. In Salt Lake County, where the centers serve meals, all but the kitchen helper and site manager are volunteers, according to Darrell Butler, Salt Lake County Aging Services. And the oldest volunteer is 83.

Claire McKean, site manager at Central City, said her center promotes the idea "you can do anything you want. They're happier with themselves when they're active. If you have an idea of what you want to do, we'll try it."

At Central City, "it" includes making decorations, writing a newsletter, exercise classes, political discussions, crafts, congregate meals and "most anything that keeps people active and happy."