By José A. Álvarez
Staying mentally and physically active is a must for people of all ages, especially for seniors. The members of La Ronda, a Spanish-speaking social group, know this all too well. That’s why once a month, the group gathers to discuss culture and politics. They sing. They dance. They travel. They eat and socialize. And, most importantly, they have fun.
“It’s a way to have fun, to get out of the house,” said Celia Purón, who, together with a group of friends, founded La Ronda two years ago. “There are a lot of people who don’t leave their home. They don’t have a diversion. For me, it’s a great satisfaction to see people happy,” she said in Spanish, a requirement to participate in the group.
When La Ronda started, about 10 people attended their monthly meetings. Today, about 30-40 participate in the social gathering, which takes place the third Tuesday of each month at the Norman Park Senior Center, 270 F Street in Chula Vista. For their meeting, everyone brings their favorite dish for lunch and is encouraged to also bring a friend. They even bring a disc jockey who plays their favorite music and also sings for them.
Reynolds S. Heriot and his wife Pilar became regulars at the group’s gathering about 12 months ago. The couple said they decided to join La Ronda to be around “like-minded” people. Heriot serves as La Ronda’s master of ceremonies.
“We all have common interests. We get to know each other and learn about the places and the cultures we come from,” said Heriot, an American who speaks Spanish perfectly thanks to his wife and the 179 trips he’s made to Spain. “It’s important to be surrounded by people who are compatible,” he said, adding that their meetings also serve to cure “ageism,” which Heriot described as “a disease that attacks youth.”
It is estimated that beginning in 2006, every 15 seconds someone will turn 60 years old in the United States. One of the fastest-growing segments of the senior population is among the Hispanic community.
Given the statistics, it’s important for people over 50 to have a place where they can stimulate the mind and the body, said Karen Harvell, Recreation Supervisor who oversees the Norman Park Senior Center’s operations.
“They need a place where they can interact with other people at the same stage of life,” said Harvell, explaining that there are many different stages in the senior citizen population. “The interests and concerns for people 50-65 are different than those for people over 75.”
For that reason, she said, the Center offers up to 14 different activities throughout the day for persons who are retired, thinking about retirement, or home bound. The Center provides educational and health classes, social activities, exercise programs, a computer center, and many other services. It is also home to many special interest groups such as the Garden Club, Coin Club, Antiques & Collectibles, Camera Club, the South Bay Radio Club, and many others, including La Ronda and Grupo Amistad, which meets the second Wednesday of every month. Currently, over 100 seniors volunteer at the Center, which is open six days a week from 8:00 a.m. to10:00 p.m.
“Whether they are seniors who are working or retired, they can find something that would interest them,” said Harvell, who nearly three years ago launched www.LifeOptionsSouthBay.com, a web site for leads on volunteer opportunities, educational, recreational, and health activities, and employment possibilities. The goal of the one-stop shop is to provide persons 50 + with information on ways to improve their quality of life and make the most of their retirement. “If you stimulate your mind and your body, they will last longer.”
That is exactly what Aurora Became is doing. In addition to participating in La Ronda’s activities, she also takes advantage of the Center’s exercise programs and goes for walks every morning for an hour.
“It’s important for us to remain active and not just be sitting at home,” said Became, who lives with her husband at the senior apartment complex adjacent to the Center. “Our health is our greatest treasure.”
For additional information on the Center’s programs and services, call (619) 691-5086.