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Dec 28

Guess who turns 50 in 2021?

Posted on December 28, 2020 at 4:05 PM by Becky Burnside

JCPRD’s 50 Plus Department has been serving the community since 1971 and as of 2021, it will be old enough to participate in its own programs! 

In all seriousness, the department has spent the past five decades providing tools, resources, and outlets to help older adults of Johnson County and beyond live and age well.

In July of 1971 the JCPRD Senior Adult Program was developed to meet the needs of older adults in the community.  The program was initially funded under Title III of the Older Americans Act.  JCPRD staff aided in developing programs in Olathe, Prairie Village and Mission.   The early, weekly meetings of the groups at each location consisted of entertainment, socialization, cards, and games.  Additional activities were available through countywide functions such as parties and travel which were planned by JCPRD.  

50 Plus plans to celebrate this major milestone in 2021, but with the uncertainty of the pandemic, for the January through April season, this will mostly take the form of small in-person and virtual programs that are throwbacks to the 70s, 80s, and the 90s. This season’s tie-in programs focus on the 90s and can be found in the 50 plus section of the new January through April issue of the My JCPRD Activities catalog marked with (50!). But the department hopes to have a bigger in-person event later in the year.

A few important milestones in the department include:
  • July 1971: First meeting of the Olathe Satisfied Seniors held at the Olathe Fire Station.
  • June 1972: The 50 Plus Travel Program was conceived and hired a full-time staff member to plan day trips and extended tours.  
  • January 1980: The 50 Plus Program (formerly Senior Adult Program) opens site at the new Overland Park Community Center and began offering a variety of fee and non-fee classes.  
  • March 1984: The Olathe Senior Center moved to its new location at 420 E. Santa Fe and increased programing to five days a week, one evening, and one Saturday per month.
  • January 1993: 50 Plus performance group, The Side by Side Singers and Strutters (now the Side by Side Experience) begin performing to public audiences.
  • June 1994: 50 Plus Program sports programming was initiated starting with the Malibu Grand Prix program which was an on-going racing club.  
  • September 2004: The 1st annual Kansas City Senior Games began and includes a 5K, golf, tennis, bowling, horseshoes, and shuffleboard with games expanding to other events such as swimming, track and field, softball and more. 
  • January 2005: First session of the New Horizons Band is offered.  
  • October 2011: Picked up and re-vamped the long-standing event Senior Quest (formerly Celebrate Age), that was cancelled after 2010 to Senior Fest. Moved it from the Overland Park Convention Center to the Ritz Charles.
  • August 2014: Started the Mid-West Regional Pickleball Tournament at New Century Fieldhouse.
  • July 2019: Began programming at the new Meadowbrook Park Clubhouse in Prairie Village, Kan.  
  • December 2019: Sent a traveler to Antarctica, attaining a goal of our travel program going to all seven continents.
This summer or fall, depending on the status of the pandemic, we hope to offer an event to truly celebrate and commemorate this milestone but will adapt as necessary.  We’ll feature all our celebration activities in our weekly e-newsletters and social media sites along with interesting historical facts about programs we’ve offered, people we’ve met, and partnerships we’ve developed.   

Keys to our department’s long-term success have included:  emphasizing wellness and educational opportunities; keeping up with national and regional trends; being responsive to the needs and interests of those they serve; and building partnerships with numerous community groups ranging from local health organizations, educational institutions, city park and recreation agencies, national organizations, and other government agencies.  Some examples of those partners include UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Kansas’ OSHER Institute, City of Overland Park, Lenexa Parks and Recreation, AARP, Mid America Regional Council, and so many more.

Pickleball is a great example of how we stay successful and relevant. We were the first in the metro to offer pickleball in 2008. Through research, talking with participants, and our positive relationships with our partners, we were able to start this program at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center with equipment we were able to get donated through  With support of the United States Pickleball Association, we learned the rules, found some that were interested in the sport, started offering drop-in play options, and from there it continued to grow and is now spreading like wildfire across our community.  

Other popular 50 Plus offerings include: an extended travel program that has taken people all over the US and around the world for the past 48 years; the Side by Side Experience singing group which has been around for at least 25 years; a nature walk program that for more than 20 years has let the more adventurous hike trails in Kansas and Missouri; and the New Horizons Band which for more than 15 years has provided a place for musicians who haven’t picked up an instrument since middle school the chance to play. 

While virtual programs have been a lifeline and necessity in 2020 because of COVID-19, we hope these can grow and continue even after the pandemic. They’ve proven to be a positive way to bring forth educational programs, reach homebound individuals, and those with busy schedules who want to quickly pop online.  We’ve just tapped into the early stages of our virtual programs.  They can keep us better connected to those we already serve and help us reach new audiences in our community.

With society being more aware of how important it is to stay active and engaged to maintain independence our programs are trending to meet this need.  The next wave of boomers and older adults recognize the need to be prepared to live longer so they are seeking ways to educate themselves on how to do that well. There is great freedom to be able to learn and incorporate healthy living tools and techniques to prevent and/or manage chronic diseases.  There is also great freedom in having a plan in place should the worst-case scenario happen. Programs like Live Well Age Well, the Aging Mastery Program, and our evidence-based wellness classes like T’ai Chi for Arthritis are a few examples of programs that meet that need.
Care and attention to detail by 50 Plus staff is also important along with professionalism, providing high quality programs, and excellent customer service.  This has always been expected by the department staff in the past and those practices continue to be instilled today.  Asking our users what their interests are and following through by providing the opportunity to pursue those interests is also key to our success.

Ultimately, making a difference in the lives of participants is what keeps the program relevant. 
Our true strength is in the positive outcomes our users have gained through participation.  By focusing on providing opportunities for people to gain new skills, improve their overall health, and socialize keeps the older adults in our community engaged, independent, and relevant.  Those outcomes drive our department’s passion to serve. The programs we offer are vitally important and we must maintain a level of excellence and be forward thinking with the staff in place now who will hold the reigns in the future.

Stay tuned and join us for a year of fun and celebration!