Community leaders in Great Falls are tapping into what they believe is an unmet need in that community — activities for senior citizens.
Last month, the efforts of this group of volunteers led to the county Board of Supervisors officially endorsing the Great Falls Senior Center Without Walls. This model makes use of existing facilities in the community, such as churches and park sites, to house social activities for older adults.
This is the second such organization in the county; a Senior Center Without Walls was established in the Burke/West Springfield area in 2009.
The county has embraced these volunteer-driven program models because, with a growing senior population, “we kind of came to the realization that, as needs came about, we couldn’t continue to build facilities to meet those needs,” said Chris Scales, a region manager with the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.
While the organizations are primarily volunteer-driven, Fairfax County is providing some staff support, serving in an advisory capacity. As the offerings in Great Falls expand, the county can help link the senior center group with people who are experienced at providing programming for seniors, Scales said.
Currently, the Great Falls group is organizing a monthly gathering for seniors, generally consisting of some sort of educational lecture, lunch and musical entertainment. The first such event was held in July, and there have been two others in September and October, all drawing about 80 to 90 attendees.
“It seems like we’re tapping into a need that exists in the community,” said Linda Fernald, a member of the all-volunteer working group that is behind the center.
Over time, Fernald and working group chairman Robert Lundegard said, the Great Falls Senior Center Without Walls will hopefully grow to have weekly events, or maybe even multiple events each week.
Those seeking out these activities are primarily interested in socializing with people in their peer group, Lundegard said. In a survey they conducted of Great Falls area seniors, many said “they wanted to have opportunities to interact,” he said.
The working group has also made an effort to ensure that the activities are widely accessible, coordinating carpools for those who don’t drive and not charging a fee to participants.
While Great Falls is overall a wealthy community, Lundegard said, “we didn’t want to have anything that caused people to say they couldn’t afford it.”
The group has worked to obtain local business and individual sponsors for its event, and they also “pass the hat” after lunch to allow participants to contribute if they wish.
The idea took shape over the last two years as a result of a working group of the Great Falls Citizens Association. As the program grows, it will likely become its own entity, Lundegard and Fernald said. They are still examining different operating structures and already considering how they can begin offering additional activities in the future.
“We’re trying to take it one logical step at a time,” Fernald said.