Groton Senior Center responds to demands of active, older adults

People participate in a Karate-Do class with sensei (teacher) Ralph Batty Jr, not shown, at the Groton Senior Center Monday, Dec. 18, 2018.  The Karate-Do class is one of the new classes offered at the center for younger, more active seniors.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
People participate in a Karate-Do class with sensei (teacher) Ralph Batty Jr, not shown, at the Groton Senior Center Monday, Dec. 18, 2018. The Karate-Do class is one of the new classes offered at the center for younger, more active seniors. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Groton — Ralph Batty Jr. told his karate students last week their accomplishments mark a new beginning.

“Who knows, maybe you want to be a black belt," he said. "Who knows, maybe you’re just here to train.” Batty's students are members of the Groton Senior Center and some are in their 70s. But he made no judgment about what they could or could not do.

The class, which started this fall, is part of a larger effort by the center to satisfy the varied interests of a new generation of active, older adults.

“It’s not the senior center of our grandparents where they just played bingo,” Director Mary Jo Riley said last week. “It’s really trying to break that ageist view of, ‘They’re old, they’re frail, they just play cards and eat lunch.’”

Between 300 and 350 seniors visit the Groton Senior Center each day, and though the average age of members is 75, many are younger. Riley estimated about 20 percent of center members are ages 69 and younger, and many of the younger visitors are still working.

This fiscal year, the building extended evening hours from 5 until 7 p.m. to meet the demand for more later classes and visits to the fitness center. In addition to Zumba three evenings a week and strength training two evenings a week, the center offers the option of consulting with a personal trainer.

Programs must be self-supporting, so classes must enroll a certain number of people to cover expenses. But the center has been able to expand offerings by experimenting. Riley tries new programs short-term based on what she learns from seniors and staff. If a program fails to get the interest she expected, she ends it. If it works, she keeps it.

“We don’t want people to get bored with things,” she said. Among the new programs coming up: A one-day “decorate a walking cane” class by the instructor that teaches calligraphy. The center added ukulele lessons last year. Then it added karate. 

Batty’s first class of seven students is moving on to the next level, while a new group of seniors starts this winter. “You guys are going to pave the way,” he told the students.

“This is the first time I’ve ever joined anything other than the Navy,” said Cliff Still, 69, of the class. “At my age, if you don’t keep on moving and you don’t keep on thinking, you’re going to fade away. This is something new. It gets you thinking. It gets you learning.”

“It’s not easy, but he’s an excellent teacher, an excellent sensei,” said Richard Cater, 72, using the term for a martial arts instructor.

On Dec. 18, Batty directed the class in an "attack and destroy" combination: Block, punch, block. The class followed as he demonstrated.

“Kiai!” he yelled, then he turned to address his students.

More energy, he said. “We want to disturb the card game next door,” he said.

Batty has been teaching karate for 20 years and has students as young as age 3.

“This is one of my favorite classes,” he said. “Even if I get here early, most of them beat me. They’re here ready to go. They’re eager.”

“If they can’t do something, we find a way around it. And I haven’t had to do much of that," he added. He's involved in two large tournaments, he said. "One day, I'll put a senior division in that tournament."

d.straszheim@theday.com

Sensei (teacher) Ralph Batty Jr, center,works with a couple of students on a hand move during the Karate-Do class at the Groton Senior Center Monday, Dec. 18, 2018.  The Karate-Do class is one of the new classes offered at the center for younger, more active seniors.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Sensei (teacher) Ralph Batty Jr, center,works with a couple of students on a hand move during the Karate-Do class at the Groton Senior Center Monday, Dec. 18, 2018. The Karate-Do class is one of the new classes offered at the center for younger, more active seniors. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
The Groton Senior Center is show in this March 2010 Day file photo. (Tim Martin/The Day)
The Groton Senior Center is show in this March 2010 Day file photo. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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