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The first Senior Center in the country opened in 1943 in the Bronx, New York and was called the William Hodson Community Center. By 1961 about 218 senior centers had opened all across the country. The first community senior centers were operated by cities or nonprofit or religious organizations. Funding came from government, community donations and fees from people using the facilities. In the early days, some federal funding came from Title XX of the Social Security act but funding for Title XX has been decreasing and much of that money today is being used for other programs. In 1972, the Older Americans Act was amended to provide funding for senior centers as this was considered to be an important piece of the aging network.
Today, there are estimated to be about 15,000 senior centers across the country serving about 10 million older Americans annually. About 6,000 of these centers receive part or all their funding through the Older Americans Act.
Senior centers act as a focal point for older Americans to receive many aging services. They are a vital part of the aging network. For Area Agencies on Aging, the senior center has become a place where many AAA services can be provided, where outreach and targeting can occur and where feedback can be received from the elderly. The most common services offered at a senior center are:
Larger senior centers in major cities may offer additional specific services because they serve a large and diverse group of patrons. Here are some examples:
Most elderly people are aware of senior centers in their neighborhoods but for those who are not familiar with the program, senior centers are found through an online search.
Federal funding for these services represents 52% of the total federal budget for aging services and represents 56.7% of state direct title grants. This also includes some money for nutrition counseling and other nutrition service programs. Also, a large block of this money comes from the Department of Agriculture in the form of cash or commodities.
At the state and local level these programs also represent the greatest part of matching funds and the largest share of volunteer hours. And a great number of volunteers who help area agencies on aging are also involved in the meal program. In addition, state and local governments, direct public contributions and the United Way may provide additional money to run nutritional programs. The meal program is one of the most important and largest components of senior aging support services.
It is felt by all who serve elderly Americans that providing at least one meal a day, which is equivalent to at least a third of the daily recommended caloric intake and nutritional needs, is important in helping the elderly remain independent in the community. Just making sure that older Americans receive proper nutrition and nutrition counseling has probably kept a large number of people out of long term care institutions. Also the congregate or community served meal program, which is designed for people who are not homebound, is an incentive for the elderly to get together in groups for not only a daily meal but also for social stimulation, awareness of the other aging programs, caregiver training and input from other supportive programs. Some programs can afford to offer more than one meal a day and also offer meals on weekends as well.
Area agencies on aging aren't the only programs providing nutritional service to elderly Americans. A diverse number of organizations from local government, church groups or nonprofit groups serve meals everyday to a large number of elderly Americans all over this country. Some of these groups may accept money from area agencies but many do not. Although the number of meals served by other groups may exceed that provided directly through area agencies, Older Americans Act meal services are by far the largest single program in the United States. Since the meal program's authorization in the Older Americans Act in 1972, approximately 7 billion meals have been served. Here are some numbers for older Americans act nutrition programs.
During 2001, 112,000,000 congregate meals were served to 1,750,000 older adults. Services provided in addition to meals:
Profile of a Congregate Participant:
During 2001, 143,000,000 home-delivered meals were served to 927,000 older Americans. These were mostly homebound people who greatly appreciated the services.
This meal program is usually offered in senior centers which may be sponsored by area agencies on aging or sponsored by other community organizations, counties or cities or churches. Area agencies may also make arrangements with religious groups or other providers of gathering places for the elderly to serve these meals in places other than senior centers. Organizations not receiving funds from area agencies might be offering meals in churches, non-OAA senior centers, local government and community gathering places and so forth.
The Older Americans Act does not allow providers receiving its funds to charge for these meals, although voluntary donations are encouraged and often received. This creates a dilemma for organizations that may want to use these funds but typically charge for meals on a sliding scale fee, based on income. Even by charging, most of these organizations only receive about a third of the cost of the meal from cost sharing. Some of the organizations providing meals will accept money from area agencies but have to segregate their programs into voluntary contribution meals and cost sharing meals. In order for area agencies to have a greater impact on the congregate meal programs in the United States, the rules must change to allow for cost sharing.