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Something for Everyone

The Colorado Springs Senior Center nurtures the body and the soul.

Special programs draw dozens of folks to the center; they love the variety of offerings.

Special programs draw dozens of folks to the center; they love the variety of offerings.

Walk into the Colorado Springs Senior Center around lunchtime any weekday and you might smell the savory scent of a pot of chili or the homey smell of meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. Near the door to the cafeteria, there could be as many as 100 diners waiting to dig in—and as hungry for conversation as a hot meal. All this for $2.25. Although the center feeds the body, it also feeds the mind and soul.

Since 1986, the center has catered to the needs of the city’s aging population, says Mary Swantek, operations and program manager since 2014. “One of our main goals is to combat social isolation” among seniors, she says. And if the center isn’t accomplishing that goal, it’s not for lack of trying.

Here, you can learn to draw or paint (and have your work displayed and sometimes sold); you can learn to line dance; take a tai chi or yoga class; figure out how to do your own taxes; gain comfort from a support group; master the crafts of beadwork, gemstone cutting, knitting or weaving; and so much more. Want to try Zumba? Learn how to use your computer? Go on a field trip to a museum or the zoo? Experience speed dating? This is the place, offering about 25 classes every day.

On a snowy afternoon, group of fellows are huddled around a giant table, working a community jigsaw puzzle in the common area. Others are sitting in the sunny atrium reading. (Books are donated but available to all.) A poker game is about to start. And the coffee pot is always on. 

The facility, which looks modest on the outside, used to be a grocery store many years ago. Now it contains numerous rooms for everything from martial arts and Pilates to “messy” art, such as pottery making. There’s even a small clinic at which patrons can get free blood-pressure checks and a larger clinic where visiting nurses do foot care and sometimes massages are offered. 

The center’s large classroom is where movie nights are held along with workshops on everything from how to write a will to ways to save money. And when not serving meals, the cafeteria is home to concerts, ballroom dances with live music on Thursdays, and other special events. Outside is a large patio where patrons can sit in nice weather, flanked by a community garden, tended by volunteers who get to indulge in the resulting bounty. 

Silver Key Senior Services provides the hot, nutritious meals (and staff to serve them) every weekday. And a retired pastry chef is going to start making baked goods to sell in Grandma’s Kitchen to help raise money for the center.

In fact, fundraising is the no. 1 challenge for Swantek. However, since moving in 2015 from under the auspices of the city to being under the YMCA umbrella, she can apply for grants offered to nonprofits. They also get donations and charge small fees for most classes.

Patrons of the center come not only from Colorado Springs, but also Monument, Fountain, Calhan, and even Denver. And they don’t come just for the food.

At lunch, Roberta Kruse says the food is good, but she really comes for the company. “It beats eating alone,” she says.

Her friend, Donna Kocher, says she comes for the food, but stays for the dances. “I just love to dance!” she says. “It’s my big thing.”

Patrick Osthelder likes the food as well, but he loves to sing. He practices with the Colorado Springs Senior Choir here and performs in a trio with them at their concerts. 

“We not only offer programs, we create relationships here,” Swantek says. There has been more than one marriage between people who met at the center, she adds.

The center is geared for those 55 and older, the average age of a patron is 76, and there are more women than men. But Swantek is actively trying to recruit younger seniors with activities, such as zip-lining, whitewater rafting trips, and guided hikes. “We want to offer something for all interests and abilities. Just because you are aging doesn’t mean you don’t want to try new things, to learn new skills,” Swantek says.

Most importantly, she wants everyone who walks through the front doors to feel welcome. “We want this to be a place that feels warm and inviting—a place to enjoy an activity, learn something new, or just come and be.”