As a group of seniors and middle-aged couples danced to the beat of live country music Tuesday evening at the James Valley Community Center, Maria Payne watched with a smile.
Seeing the JVCC dance floor filled with roughly 150 people sharing laughs and smiles was the outcome Payne hoped to achieve with her idea to host the Tuesday night music jam. While the event drew a large crowd of people who united to create an energetic atmosphere at the JVCC, it’s uncommon scene at community centers across the nation.
According to Payne, JVCC activities coordinator, community centers have been facing a dismal trend over the past few years.
While methods of keeping track of senior and community center attendance vary, meaning there is not an official census taken on attendance, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) reported in 2018 that senior and community centers are facing a steady decline in attendance rates across the nation. Some estimates have reported a 15 percent decrease in attendance over the past 15 years.
“It’s a sad trend, because community centers are so vital, and they help unite all age groups,” Payne said in an interview with The Daily Republic. “Of the members and guests that come to the JVCC and take part in some of the activities we offer, we see how much they connect. And that helps build a sense of community.”
Kim Burg and Payne jointly serve as the JVCC activities coordinators. And together, they’ve been determined to buck the national trend, working to revitalize the city’s community center.
Creating unique activities like Fine Arts Friday and Wednesday Wellness, Burg and Payne have been maintaining strong participation numbers at the JVCC. A common theme among the new activities Burg and Payne have implemented over the past several years is bridging age gaps and promoting a multi-generational community center.
“We’re really working hard to make this an inter-generational place because it amazes me how many people think the JVCC is for seniors only,” Payne said. “Naturally, we have a lot of seniors because many of them are retired, but it’s been challenging getting the word out that the JVCC is for all ages.”
Payne said breaking the stigma of the JVCC being dubbed as solely a senior center has been one of the most challenging aspects in her quest to reinvigorate the community center.
One of the activities that has been promoting a more inter-generational community center is hosting youth 4-H members who will present their project presentations at the JVCC. In addition, Burg said forming partnerships with the Davison County 4-H chapter, Dakota Wesleyan University and Mitchell Technical Institute have been methods the two activities coordinators have been utilizing to help bridge the JVCC age gap.
“It’s neat to see the 4-H kids come and present and get the opportunity to practice their presentations in front of an audience,” Burg said. “The kids just love it when they come here and connect with some of senior members we have. We have also brought an old record player here when the kids come, and they were so interested in how it worked. It’s a special thing to be a part of.”
Through creating special events such as the recent music jam, along with the wide variety of daily activities, Payne and Burg feel they have the JVCC moving in the right direction.
Those interested in becoming a JVCC member must be at leas 18 years old, and there is a $1 daily fee for non-members looking to take part in the many activities, which include pool, darts, dancing and more.
“All of these things we offer are open to the public, as well,” Payne said. “The community has been supportive of our efforts, and we’re always looking for fun, new ways to connect all ages.”
Audrey Handsel is one of the 331 JVCC members who have been taking advantage of the activity opportunities. Since joining roughly three months ago, Handsel said she’s already established plenty of friendships at the JVCC.
“It’s been great being a member, and there are so many fun activities to be a part of at the JVCC. I can’t believe it took me this long to become a member,” Handsel said.
As a longtime Mitchell resident, Handsel can attest to the senior center stereotype that shrouds the JVCC. Through becoming a member recently, Handsel has found out how inaccurate that stigma is.
“I think a lot of people thought the JVCC was a senior center, but you will quickly find out it’s a place for everyone,” Handsel said. “Maria (Payne) and Kim (Burg) are always so enthusiastic about the fun things going on at the community center, and they work hard to let the community know that the JVCC is a place for everyone to come have fun.”