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By Danny Ritz

In 1985, then-President Ronald Reagan signed off on National Senior Center Week with a presidential proclamation. Since then, the National Institute of Senior Centers has expanded the week to a month-long celebration recognizing the “mastery of aging.”

Every September since 2007, the N.I.S.C has encouraged communities to honor the diverse range of opportunities available at their local senior centers and take part in the creation of a positive image of aging.

For any one of the more than 200,000 citizens of South Orange County over the age of 65, there is an abundance of opportunities to continue their intellectual growth, enhance their physical fitness, and connect to age specific health services in the area.

Continuing Education

Dan Predoehl is the Assistant Dean of the Division of Community Education, Emeritus Institute and K-12 partnerships, and the Director of the Emeritus Institute of Saddleback College—a “college within a college,” as he puts it. Working cooperatively with senior centers in every major city in South Orange County, the Emeritus Institute serves more than 6,000 adult students with free graduate-level off-campus education classes.

These not-for-credit courses are held to the same curriculum standard as any other California Community College system class. After gauging academic necessity and social interest, all classes have to pass through department chairs, curriculum committees, academic councils, and the Board of Trustees before being approved by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

This process, in addition to minimum requirements for instructors, ensures that the Emeritus Institute classes appeal to most, if not all, of what Predoehl calls the Emeritus Institute’s “four pillars.”

“These courses are to be academically rigorous, mentally stimulating, socially engaging and health improving,” Predoehl said.

Predoehl said he enjoys working in “non-traditional” age education, as he regularly sees students participating in his programs for the “pure joy of learning.”

“Yes, our students are learning content, but they are getting intrinsic value from their classes,” Predoehl explained. “We’re offering more than just something for people to do.”

Offering more than 50 classes this fall, more information on the Emeritus Institute can be found at their website,, or by phone at 949.582.4835.

Pure Recreation

When it comes to recreation opportunities in San Clemente, Samantha Davis, the city’s recreation manager, and Melissa Muraira, the city’s recreation coordinator, are focused on one crucial thing.

“We’re here to make sure you’re having fun,” Davis said laughing.

A recently conducted demographic survey shows that 35 percent of San Clemente’s population is over the age of 55, and the city earnestly gauges what recreational activities are preferred by its aging population.

“Our adult classes are open to everyone, but predominately attended by the 55 and older community,” Muraira said. “Our instructors are very receptive to particular needs.”

Muraira is in charge of the recreational class offerings by the city of San Clemente, and has recognized a growing interest in the arts in comparison to the more traditional athletic favorites.

Offering more than 40 adult classes, both Davis and Muraira noted that their dance and workout classes such as Jazzercise and several disciplines of yoga are among their most attended.

Other community favorites are the aquatics classes offered through the city, as they offer high physical output in a fun atmosphere without the high-impact nature of other athletic activities.

“We work hard to complement our incredible senior center,” Davis explained. “For example, they have a fantastic gym at the senior center, but with our (growing) aquatic facility resources, we can offer a very well-rounded program.”

A full schedule of the adult recreational class offerings, in addition to a wide variety of other programs, can be found on each city’s website, or in widely available printed literature such as the City of San Clemente’s magazine.

Essential Assistance

In addition to the previously mentioned educational and recreational activities in the area, local senior centers also provide a much-needed age-appropriate support network for community members.

Cathy Lee is the director of the Dorothy Visser Senior Center in San Clemente, where she works cooperatively with the city of San Clemente as an employee of Age Well Senior Services. Age Well is a nonprofit, public benefit 501(c)(3) organization based out of Laguna Hills.

At the Dorothy Visser Senior Center, Lee and her team offer a wide variety of services such as AARP Smart Driver courses, blood pressure checks, braille and visual aids courses, legal aid and case management (by appointment only).

All 11 Age Well Senior Center locations in South Orange County—including San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, and San Clemente—provide a crucial nutritional program as well. Free to community members over 60 years old (with a recommended donation of $4.50 and $6 for anyone 60 years or younger), Age Well senior centers provide an appealing and nutritional daily congregate lunch. Meals on Wheels services are also accessible for those in need of in-home service.

Kathleen Wiltse, the nutritional site manager of the Age Well branch at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, also emphasized the importance of the ethnic diversity of her staff, and how increasing that diversity allows their programs to become more relatable and better suited for the community’s needs.

“We have a large Hispanic population here in San Juan Capistrano, and with the addition of Spanish-speaking staff members and activities, we have seen a substantial increase in Hispanic community members attending the senior center,” Wiltse said.

For information about your nearest senior center, visit your city’s website or contact Age Well Senior Centers at 949.855.8033 or visit their website at

Reliant on donations, Age Well welcomes the public’s support through donations to ensure their continuance in assisting the senior community of South Orange County.

Read more of our Aging Well special section here:

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