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The City Journals

Q&A with new Midvale Senior Center manager, Loriann Warner

Apr 15, 2019 10:44AM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Loriann Warner is the new manager of the Midvale Senior Center after managing the Riverton center for more than six years. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

Loriann Warner became the new manager of the Midvale Senior Center in February after serving as manager of the Riverton Senior Center for six and a half years. She replaced Ken Donarski, who was reassigned to the West Jordan Senior Center.

How did you get involved in developing programming for seniors? 

“My degree is actually in early childhood education from the University of Utah. I previously worked at the Department of Workforce Services in a program for children at risk. I worked with teens and families that were struggling and needing help with various resources. If they didn’t qualify for certain resources, we had to research or develop programs on our own. 

I took a break from work and when I decided to go back I found a job developing programs at the old Midvale Senior Center. Being a mom had taught me a lot about programming activities, and things that I had done with my kids often played into my new job. 

I worked at Midvale in the old building in the park as a programmer for 21 months, then interviewed for a manager position at the Riverton Senior Center at the end of 2012. I was there for 6 1/2 years, then the county transferred me back to Midvale.”

How does it feel to be back at the Midvale Senior Center?

“I definitely feel mixed emotions! When I left Midvale, I cried. When I left Riverton to go back to Midvale, I cried. I had spent six years building the program into what it is now. That center was new at the time, too. There hadn’t been a lot of development in programming yet, so that’s where I started. We focused on building up the programming and developing a volunteer pool. They had a good one started, but we grew it even more and used volunteers to teach our classes.”

What do you look for in a volunteer at the senior center?

“A senior center budget usually does not have a lot of money for staff, so if we can find qualified teachers willing to act as volunteers, that’s the direction I go when trying to build programming. 

I love teachers who are retired. It doesn’t matter the topic, we can make it work. When people think of senior centers, they think arts and crafts, but we want all subjects. In Riverton, we offered a class in American history and had 23 people show up for the first session, which is unheard of.”

What are some programs that you’re most proud of? 

“We did some fun ones. At the old Midvale center we started doing day trips. We went everywhere—up to Ogden to the Dinosaur Park and a trip at the Sundance Mountain Resort where a chairlift took the seniors up to the top to see the fall leaves. We’ve also gotten donated tickets to the ‘Nutcracker.’ To hear the excitement after, see the lights in their eyes. 

At Riverton, we started putting together a ladies tea. We purchased mismatched china from yard sales and got donations. Kneaders donated sandwiches and desserts, and senior musicians played in a quartet. We held a hat making class ahead of time, and the ladies came to the tea dressed to the hilt. Some wore gloves, old fashioned skirts. A high school honors class from Herriman came and served the food and stayed to help clean up. 

A class that really stood out was Memories with Memoirs. A volunteer worked with the seniors to develop stories from their lives. Some of them evolved into incredible records of history in peoples’ lives.”

What important functions do you see the center serving?

“People think of senior centers providing free lunch, [a place to] exercise. But the main function is social—bringing people together that have similar experiences and helping them form a group.

Unfortunately, families are no longer living close to each other. But the seniors I see here become a family. If someone hasn’t been to the center in a few days, someone else will come to me so I can make a call. Or if they know where the person lives, they go themselves. Often someone has fallen and is in the hospital or needs help. 

Many seniors come to the center for classes. But others form groups that go out on their own. They wouldn’t do it by themselves, but if they have a friend then they’re brave enough to go out and do [something new]. You know that you’re successful in your center when people will engage with each other outside the center and in the community.

My background was early childhood education, and there are lots of programs for youth. But senior centers offer the only programs to fill the gap for seniors. We’re currently experiencing a silver tsunami where 11,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. Not everyone retires with a budget to do travel, especially with the recent stock market troubles. This building gives those seniors opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

What is the most challenging aspect of this job?

Finances. You see this building and think we have plenty of money, but that’s not the case. In addition to volunteers, we’re always looking for community businesses willing to help, whether it’s donating time or products that they can’t use.

We will be paying to take care of seniors one way or another. If seniors don’t get out socializing, having healthy meals, taking an art class, getting exercise they do not age as well, they get ill more often, and are more likely need to be in an assisted living center. We can either pay after they stay home and go downhill. Or we pay the bill upfront and try to keep seniors strong and healthy and on their own as long as possible, which is more beneficial to the community at large.

You can go back in time and you can look at the societies that were successful. The societies that were the strongest were the ones that cared for their weakest members: the young, the elderly, and those with special needs. The ones that did not take care of them did not survive as long. With the amount of individuals we have retiring right now, we need to decide what kind of society are we going to be?”

What excites you about being back at the Midvale Senior Center?

“The idea that this is what we have: a beautiful building and a cafe that provides a fresh meal cooked onsite each day (only three other centers in the county do that). From there, what other things can we bring into the center? I’m hoping to add new classes, like current events classes that have a facilitator to lead a discussion on differing viewpoints. 

We have some smart people who are retiring and have a lot of knowledge and education that maybe older seniors didn’t have the opportunity for. There are seniors who are scientists, psychologists, people who developed policy that benefited our youth. I’m eager to find those seniors who will come here and share their skills and experience with those already here who are ready to learn.

Have you ever seen an 80-year-old tap dance? That’s what we’re looking for."