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Special Project: Graying in Color

September 14, 2012 4:49 pm 1 Comment By  | A+ / A-

In Rego Park, a 65-year-old Bukharian Jewish man discovers a passion for table tennis, learning the tricks of the game from the best – elderly Chinese ladies who have played since childhood.

In a roaming senior center geared to South Asians, yoga and crafts projects – as well as immigration and health advice – bring together Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

A new center designed for aging gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers offers support groups and a hot meal every night, while at another facility, visually impaired seniors gossip about fashion disasters on the red carpet of an awards ceremony and strategize about how to get into an ever-popular photography class.

Getting old in New York City, it turns out, can actually be pretty fun.

As Baby Boomers age, senior advocates and the city administration are bracing themselves for an influx of retirees that is expected to increase New York City’s aging population by a third between now and 2030. Today’s seniors live longer, and they have less money and greater chronic health problems than the generation before. They are also more ethnically and culturally diverse, creating new challenges for senior services.

But even as some senior centers close during hard economic times, others have thrived when they unburdened themselves of a “one size fits all” approach. By tailoring programs to specific populations and individual tastes, some of the city’s 250-plus senior centers are finding new ways to create welcoming environments for seniors of all cultures, help seniors to stay in their longtime communities, and encourage seniors themselves to help fill the gaps caused by tight budgets and inadequate staffing.

In a four-part multimedia series by Channon Hodge, Cheryl Chan and Justin Chan, Voices of NY explores some of these new approaches.

Part One: Aging Actively Among Your Own

To serve New York City’s growing – and increasingly diverse – elderly population, senior center organizers are abandoning the “one size fits all” approach to senior care, and instead gearing programs to specific populations and cultures.

Part Two: A Haven For LGBT Seniors

A center for LGBT seniors and another for visually impaired seniors are among a handful of new, “innovative” senior centers that tailor their environment to seniors’ particular needs and interests. Other centers include community gardening programs, vegetarian cuisine, swimming and watercize classes and training on everything from using Skype to bird-watching.

Part Three: Aging in Place

What happens when a whole block or housing development gets older together? “Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities,” known as NORCs, sometimes compel the city to bring the services to the seniors.

Part Four: Seniors Helping Seniors

In New York City, there’s no rest for the retired. As senior centers struggle to serve a growing and increasingly diverse elderly population, they often find themselves turning to the seniors themselves for help, as volunteers and part-time workers.

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