Inside JCPRD: Guess who turns 50 in 2021?

By David Markham

 As of 2021, JCPRD’s 50 Plus Department will be old enough to participate in its own programs!

In all seriousness, the department has spent the past five decades providing tools, resources, and outlets to help older adults of Johnson County and beyond live and age well.

50 Plus plans to celebrate this major milestone in 2021, but with the uncertainty of the pandemic, for the January through April season, this will mostly take the form of small in-person and virtual programs that are throwbacks to the 70s, 80s, and the 90s. This season’s tie-in programs focus on the 90s, and can be found in the 50 plus section of the January through April issue of the My JCPRD Activities catalog marked with (50!). But the department hopes to have a bigger in-person event later in the year.

“This summer we hope to offer an outdoor event to truly celebrate and commemorate this milestone but will adapt as necessary,” said 50 Plus Manager Michelle Alexander. “We’ll feature all our celebration activities in our weekly e-newsletters and social media sites along with interesting historical facts about programs we’ve offered, people we’ve met, and partnerships we’ve developed.”

50 Plus cowgirls.

In July of 1971, the JCPRD Senior Adult Program was developed to meet the needs of older adults in the community. The program was initially funded under Title III of the Older Americans Act. JCPRD staff aided in developing programs in Olathe, Prairie Village, and Mission.  The early weekly meetings of the groups at each location consisted of entertainment, socialization, cards, and games.  Additional activities were available through countywide functions such as parties and travel which were planned by JCPRD.

Keys to the department’s long-term success, Alexander said, have included:  emphasizing wellness and educational opportunities; following national and regional trends; and being responsive to the needs and interests of those they serve.

Another important key to the department’s success is the partnerships it has built with numerous organizations over the years.

“Local health organizations, educational institutions, city park and recreation agencies, national organizations, and other government agencies have strengthened our program and continue to today,” Alexander said. “We currently partner with UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Kansas’ OSHER Institute, City of Overland Park, Lenexa Parks and Recreation, AARP, Mid America Regional Council, and so many more.”

Alexander cites her department’s popular offerings of pickleball programs, pictured on the cover of the current printed catalog, as a representation of her department’s continued success.

“We were the first to offer pickleball in our region in 2008,” she said. “Through research, talking with participants, and our positive relationships with our partners, we were able to start this program at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center with equipment we were able to get donated through Pickleball.com.  With support of the United States Pickleball Association, we learned the rules, found some that were interested in the sport, started offering drop-in play options, and from there it continued to grow and is now spreading like wildfire.”

The New Horizons Band has provided a place for musicians who haven’t picked up an instrument since middle school the chance to play.

Other popular 50 Plus offerings include: an extended travel program that has taken people all over the US and around the world for the past 48 years; the Side by Side Experience singing group which has been around for at least 25 years; a nature walk program that for more than 20 years has let the more adventurous hike trails in Kansas and Missouri; and the New Horizons Band which for 15 plus years has provided a place for musicians who haven’t picked up an instrument since middle school the chance to play.

While virtual programs have come to the forefront in 2020 because of COVID-19, Alexander hopes these will continue and grow even after the pandemic is no longer a factor.

“They’ve proven to be a positive way to bring forth educational programs, reach homebound individuals, and those with busy schedules who want to quickly pop online,” she said. “We’ve just tapped into the early stages of our virtual programs.  They can keep us better connected to those we already serve and help us reach new audiences in our community.”

Alexander noted that her department’s current programming is trending more towards wellness and educational opportunities.

“I think people are more aware of how important it is to stay active and engaged to maintain independence,” she said. “I also think this next wave of boomers and older adults recognize the need to be prepared to live longer so they are seeking ways to educate themselves on how to do that well. There is great freedom to be able to learn and incorporate healthy living tools and techniques to prevent and/or manage chronic diseases.  There is also great freedom in having a plan in place should the worst-case scenario happen. Programs like Live Well Age Well, the Aging Mastery Program, and our evidence-based wellness classes like T’ai Chi for Arthritis are a few examples of programs we’ve started to meet that need.”

Ultimately, making a difference in the lives of participants is what keeps the program relevant.

“Our strength is in the positive outcomes individuals recognize they have gained through participation,” Alexander said. “Our focus on providing opportunities for people to gain new skills, improve their overall health, and socialize keeps the older adults in our community engaged, independent, and relevant. When we witness this and feel the joy of another, see the smile, and watch friendships grow, it drives our department’s passion to serve. The programs we offer are vitally important and we must maintain a level of excellence and be forward thinking with the staff in place now who will hold the reigns in the future. “