This study examines the factors that determine why an individual participates at a senior center, variation in amount of participation, and what they gain from attending. My main argument is that the Sunny Senior Center (SSC) is an effective institution because it creates a unique space and an unordered approach to activities on a continuing basis, allowing different types of seniors to benefit, regardless of their health, economic situation, and level of involvement. I apply the sociological theories of Karl Marxís commodities, Georg Simmelís sociability, and the anthropological theory of Victor Turnerís liminality and communitas to help explain why senior centers are likely to appeal to a diverse group of participants who might want different things from participation. To complement the theories, I also discuss relevant articles on retirement, the importance of social interaction, and age-segregation. In addition, I investigate how different people use the center in various ways by exploring what participants gain from attending and by comparing age groups and employment status.
A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods was used to collect the data. Participant observation, and interview data illustrates how participants use the SSC to fulfill a range of needs including a sense of purpose, sociality and community. The survey data is used to examine variation in levels of participation, and gains from participation. Specifically, I compare three age groups (young-old, old-old, oldest-old) and employment status (retired, non-retired), to show how the center can be used in different ways.
The findings illustrate that variation and benefits of participation do differ somewhat by groups, and employment status is more important than age groups. The majority of the SSC participants attend mostly for social and health benefits. They are able to obtain these benefits from participation at any level due to the variety of activities offered at the center. This supports my overall argument that the SSC is an effective institution because it creates a unique space where different types of seniors can benefit from participation in a variety of ways, regardless of their level of involvement. Overall, this study provides a better understanding of participants needs, reinforces the important role of senior centers in providing activities that promote successful aging, and explains why the SSC is an effective institution and a model for other senior centers to follow.