Almanac

News - June 9, 2010

For Little House, it's a changing game

by Sean Howell

Little House Activity Center, located behind Nealon Park in Menlo Park, has had to adjust over its 60-plus years in existence to the ever-changing definition of what a senior citizen is.

It has also had to adjust to an ever-changing economic climate, a fact that has been especially true in the current economic recession. With donations down by 25 percent from pre-recession levels (and falling), the center is expanding its roster of programs to attract new customers, and increasing charges for some programs as it works to cover its costs.

It's also upping the low membership rates, which cover only 6 percent of the center's operation.

"We're offering more and more classes that have nothing to do with age at all," said Wendy Lewis-Rakova, interim programs manager, who called The Almanac suggesting an article on the center's new programs.

"We get plenty of people taking jazzercise, tai chi, yoga, and Zumba, which is the hottest thing I've ever seen come down the pike here. It's for all ages, races, kids, adults, fitness buffs, puddings like myself. It's world dance, with world music, mostly African and Latin rhythms — loud, fun, young, you're moving every part of your body. ... "

If Ms. Lewis-Rakova is starting to sound like a pitchwoman, that may be because Little House's staff is becoming more aware of "how much it costs just to open the doors," as she puts it. The situation is not too dire, she said, but everyone is mindful of the budget.

The center is working harder to lure new patrons. It has for several years made a conscious effort to appeal to people under age 65, and is beginning a new series of month-long arts and crafts classes, with supplies provided, to get people in the door. The classes are open to everyone, not only members.

"We are now playing a different game than we've ever played before," Ms. Lewis-Rakova said. "We want to be 'it' for anybody."

When it was founded, the Peninsula Volunteers — the organization that runs Little House — was made up primarily of "society ladies" who donated their own money, and got their friends involved, according to Ms. Lewis-Rakova. Gradually, the center has had to do more outreach to the community at large, rather than just trying to catch big fish.

On the whole, the strategy has been successful, both in financial terms, and in expanding the Little House community. But signs of strain have cropped up recently.

Some of the activities, like the Friday night movies, now have sponsors. The center started a Wednesday night bingo event to raise money, canceled it because it was taking up too much volunteer time, and is trying to get it going again, using seniors as volunteers.

"We just have to think about things differently," Ms. Lewis-Rakova said. "We've been trying, and doing, all sorts of things."

Those things include classes on how to deal with the Medicare system, longer hours at the woodshop, more adult education classes, and more classes oriented toward home economics.

Visit tinyurl.com/LHclasses for a list of classes available, or call 326-2025 for more information.

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