The seniors who run the Boulder-Basin Senior Center in Boulder—volunteers who took the helm of the local nonprofit and its facility from the generation ahead of them—worry that there will be no one for them to hand the organization to when it's time for them to step back, and that they may see the eventual demise of the community institution in coming years.
The problem, volunteers and Senior Center leaders said, is simple: Not enough seniors show up.
"Over the years, we've tried to get more people to come, but people have their own lives," said Kathy Dyer. Dyer, 81, formerly served as president of Boulder-Basin Senior Citizens, the nonprofit that operates the center, and currently volunteers at the See N Save thrift store in the same building. The store sends 60% of its profit to the Senior Center, according to current president Ray Cordeiro, 69, and the remaining 40% goes to other local causes. There's also some funding from the county.
Money, he said, is not the problem.
"We're good, financially," he said. "We had problems in the past, but that was years ago when the See N Save was not taking in any money, or very little."
The struggle, he said, is that "it used to be a community get-together spot—and it wasn't just old people. It's kind of a decline in the society as it's going now—if nobody will volunteer for anything, it's got to end. And maybe we haven't found the right idea yet to get people to want to come, but the things we've tried sure haven't worked either."
The center hosted an event for Valentines Day and it has an internet-connect computer available for use, as well as wheelchairs and walkers for loan, a slew of games and puzzles, a pool table, a kitchen and tables for card games or simply visiting with friends. People sometimes still come to Senior Center events, "but that's where it ends," according to Vickie Cordeiro, 65, who is married to Ray and volunteers at the See N Save.
"We've tried before to get more people to come," Dyer said. "We had bingo—the people who did bingo died or moved away. We talk to people around town and say, 'Why don't you come to lunch?' And nobody does."
What Boulder-Basin Senior Citizens needs, Dyer and the Cordeiros said, is folks who don't just come to play cards or enjoy weekly $5 lunches offered by the Rocky Mountain Development Council, but who will also pay $10 a year to join the organization. Most importantly, they said, they need new people to volunteer to keep the organization alive in years to come.
For years, they said, the center was bustling with activity and successive cohorts of volunteers kept the organization and its facility alive.
"When we first came here, they'd finished the basement. That was pretty much full of people," Ray Cordeiro, who moved to Boulder with Vickie around 1985, said. "And that just slowly died out with the older folks, and a lot of those were the original ones that kind of got it started out and got it going."
Dyer said her family is from Boulder and she moved to Boulder from Helena, where she spent most of her life, about 20 years ago.
"When I first got here, we'd go to lunch, there were 30, 40 people," she recalled. "But they've died, moved away."
Now, she said, maybe four or five people get lunch at the center.
Vickie Cordeiro recalled that "In the olden days, they came to talk and play cards, and I guess that idea died out with them. We're stumped with what to do and why."
Vickie and Ray Cordeiro said that one cause for low participation—which was already declining before the pandemic and has only shrunk further—could be that today's seniors are less interested in the board games, puzzles and other activities that traditionally occupied seniors of older generations. Today's seniors, she observed, are either more independently active than in previous generations, or would rather stay home and watch TV.
"Back in the day, you came in and talked, and now the whole mindset is completely different," she said. "Maybe that's a battle that you're going to lose, trying to bring it back to what it was 30 years ago. The mindset of people our age is different from what it was."
"It's the whole, '60 is the new 40,'" Ray Cordeiro added, reinforcing his wife's recollection of Boulder residents in their 60s chafing at her suggestion that they join a "senior citizen" group.
Their hope is that a new crop of members and volunteers—"we don't care how old," Ray Cordeiro said—will join the organization, help maintain the facility and volunteer to hold events there, and have fun socializing.
Otherwise, Vickie Cordeiro said, "If nobody wants to step up and help, then we're looking at closing. It might be 10 years from now, but that's reality."
Community members interested in joining or volunteering can call the See N Save at (406) 225-3656.