by Briana Warsing
The Roosevelt Island Senior Association (RISA) annual membership drive starts on April 1. The goal is 100 members; not 100 new members, just 100 members.
That might seem surprising given the fact that the average age in Rivercross has got to be at least 65 and Island House and Westview are probably not far behind.
Demographically speaking, the Island has way more than 100 seniors. The original residents of the Island, the pioneers, are now seniors. The 2010 census reflected that 18.5% of the Island’s then 11,661 residents were over 62 years of age. There were an additional 1700 people between the ages of 50 and 60. Although the American Association of Retire Persons (AARP) considers seniors 50 years and older, for RISA membership, you must be 55.
So why are they struggling for membership? According to Delores Green, RISA’s President for the past 15 years, “Former members have passed away or moved away. We’re not getting additional seniors. Most of our membership [has always been from] 546. We used to get a lot of funding and have a lot of parties. Now we have no funding. Our grants have dried up. We used to have 300 members, easy. Now we have to struggle to get to 100.”
Of Roosevelt Landings, Green says, “The building went private and they’re no longer moving seniors into it. Everything here is market-rate now and seniors are on a fixed income. When we die, they clean out the apartment and rent it as market-rate.” Therefore 546 Main Street is no longer, “the senior building,” as it always had been.
RISA relies on membership from outside its address for the first time ever. Barbara Parker, RISA’s secretary says, “The one bedrooms and studios [in 546 Main Street] used to be full with active older adults. Now we don’t have the same participation from the building. We never had a big participation from the other developments but now we need it.” Part of the drive for membership will center on recruiting from all of the buildings on the Island. This will include door drops, emails, a suggestion box, a new brochure and a lobby drive.
Parker says, “A lot of people in the community, including seniors themselves, think of seniors as a bunch of people sitting around.” As a result, Parker says RISA is trying to rebrand itself starting with the word senior. Parker thinks of herself as an active, older adult, for example. For the record, Parker is a youthful 67.
Parker says the organization is hoping to attract different age groups within the larger 55+ population and serve them all. She says the goal is “more programs, events and information all geared toward active, older adults.”
Parker, Green and treasurer BuBu Arya agree that one group that is missing from RISA’s ranks is men. They want to find ways to entice more men to join. Arya uses the word ‘negligible,’ to quantify men’s participation level in the group’s offerings. Parker says, “On Wednesday or Friday men do board games or card games. That’s when you’d see what percentage of men we have.”
One place the men do come is for lunch. Every day there is a hot lunch at the Senior Center between 11:30 and noon. The suggested donation is $1.50, “Isn’t that amazing,” comments Parker. It is funded by the New York City Department for the Aging and consists of standards like Lasagna and Roasted Chicken as well as healthy offerings like Vegetarian Chili and Baked Tilapia. Parker describes the food as “fresh, already heated, totally sealed and very safe.” She says about 60 people take advantage of it per day.
For the past two years, health and wellness have been hallmarks of the RISA program. Every day there is at least one fitness class, if not two. Parker teaches the Zumba class offered on Mondays and Thursdays and usually attracts between 20 and 25 students. Green says, “One of the things that is changing [RISA] is the fitness classes. They’ve brought a different flavor of people and a different complexion to the classes.” There is also Tai Chi, Chair Pilates, Korean Exercise, Salsa, Brain and Body Stretch and Strength Training, commanding the largest group, often topping out at 40 attendees.
RISA held a free eight-week nutritional workshop. The instructor was from the Cornell Cooperative Extension program and everyone who completed the program earned a certificate.
There is also Senior Day. According to Parker, prior vendors have been, “United Healthcare, AARP, the Diabetes Association, the MS Society, Dr. Resnick, Dr. Shick, we have gotten someone to help people with their wills, The Cancer Society and Relay for Life, and a biking program for seniors.” Parker said they demo five or six different fitness classes on Senior Day as well.
Membership comes with other benefits. There are discounts. Gristede’s offers a senior discount on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Riverwalk gives RISA members a 20% discount on all food purchases. The price for a full year of membership will be $15 this upcoming year, up from $12 per annum.
Green says the vibe at the Senior Center was different in the past. There were fashion shows and food production showcases that Green says were standing room only. She says, “We used to celebrate every holiday with grandeur. Every holiday.” She said that this year, because of decreased funds, they didn’t even celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Green said, “Our grants have dried up. We’re just struggling right now and trying to hold on.”
76-year old Delores Green has been on the Island for 18 years. She says she is leaving her post as President on June 27 of this year. “It’s time for me to cool it. I worked 30 years for the State Insurance Fund. Now 15 years here. Isn’t it about time I stop?” About Parker she says, “Barbara is very innovative and she always comes up with great ideas.”
Parker was the Health and Fitness Director of the McBurney YMCA on west 14th street for many years. She had a staff of 80 and taught nine classes per week. She believes in “taking your skills and passing them on. That’s what I am doing here and that’s what I would like to continue to do.” Anyway, unlike the majority of active older adults, RISA members or not, she says, “I’m still dancing like I was in my 20’s.”