Durham Parks and Recreation Offers Robust Programming Geared Toward Older Adults

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Educational, exercise and social programs helps Durham’s older adults stay active

men’s 55 and older basketball game
Players typically shoot 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 hoops during men’s 55 and older basketball games.

By Renee Ambroso|Photography by John Michael Simpson

Say you want to take a guided weightlifting class, learn how to line dance or simply meet up with a few pals for lunch and a game of cards. All of these and many more activities geared toward promoting wellness and fostering community for adults 55 and older are available through Durham Parks and Recreation at each of the city’s recreation centers.

“We try to offer a wide range of programming to build mental, physical and emotional capacities [for older adults],” says recreation services manager Deirtra Spellman. July is National Park and Recreation Month – the perfect opportunity to try out an exercise or educational class that’s part of DPR’s year-round lineup, which also includes trips to North Carolina destinations beyond Durham (for instance, a group visited Greensboro’s International Civil Rights Center & Museum in February and a casino in Cherokee, North Carolina, in May). Programs are open to City of Durham residents and nonresidents alike. “Give it a shot,” Deirtre says. “You might learn a new skill and make a new friend.”

Kevin Kelly
is a longtime member of the open gym basketball group for men 55 and older that meets on Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m. at W.D. Hill Recreation Center and Thursdays at Holton Career & Resource Center from 5:30-8 p.m. He was introduced to the DPR program shortly after moving to Durham about 26 years ago when there were just eight players consistently attending weekly games.

“I now have 75 people on my list who I email every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, reminding people where and when we’re playing,” Kevin says. “Out of that 75, we probably have 40 who are regular players.”

The group typically shoots 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 hoops depending on how many people show up on any given night. “Nobody sits for very long,” Kevin says. “It keeps everybody active.”

Kevin Kelly at Holton Career & Resource Center
Kevin Kelly looks to pass the ball during a mature adult open gym men’s basketball game at Holton Career & Resource Center.

Kevin, having competed in basketball at the Durham Senior Games & SilverArts and during the state and national senior games, says that the programming available to older adults in Durham is top notch. “Having a gym for senior basketball [several] times a week is unheard of,” he says. “In fact, when we compete in nationals and meet people from all over the country, they tell us they have trouble getting two hours of gym time a week for a senior group.

“We have one of the largest active senior basketball groups,” Kevin adds. “That’s because the city supports us, DPR supports us, and they give us the facilities and good supervision.”

resident Bernadette David-Yerumo has participated in DPR programs for the better part of 60 to 70 years, she estimates. She remembers attending day care programs during the summer as a child.

“There’s so much that DPR has to offer,” Bernadette says. “I knew once I reached retirement that I was going to participate in whatever DPR had to offer me as a senior.” She retired almost 14 years ago from the North Carolina General Assembly after working in business administration and as a campaign manager for her sister, the late Sen. Jeanne Hopkins Lucas.

Bernadette is an official ambassador for the Durham Senior Games, but she is also an avid spokesperson for the entirety of DPR’s older adult programs. “I wish more people knew about them,” she says. “When I hear people say they’re lonely or there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go, I let them know all about [DPR’s programs].”

Also a former tennis pro, Bernadette enjoys maintaining those skills, playing pickleball and myriad sports. She regularly joins in fitness and social activities at Walltown Park Recreation Center and has enjoyed taking part in virtual bingo that is available through Zoom.

“We need to be social,” Bernadette says. “I’ve met so many friends [through DPR programs] that I have maintained throughout the years.”

Meeting new people is one of the aspects Pattie Lopez enjoys most about the pickleball leagues and other exercise classes she attends. Pattie moved to Creekside at Bethpage, a 55-plus community, a little more than three years ago and works part time as an office manager in Cary. After playing pickleball in the Durham Senior Games, Pattie realized the wide range of options that were also available with DPR throughout the year.

“I meet new people every time I participate in either a class, a tournament or volunteering,” Pattie says. “I have also met some of the best people who run the programs.”

Upcoming ventures for older adults, in addition to the regular fitness and social activities, include a tour through some of Durham’s places of worship (including Jewish, Catholic and Muslim sites), a tour and wine tasting at Melanated Wine; a “Mysterious Magical Mystery Trip” to a yet-to-be-revealed location; and a visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.

Deirtra emphasizes that there’s flexibility in these offerings depending on input from community members. “We’re open to anybody who has suggestions for a program,” she says. “We want to serve the public, so if you have an idea [and] we can make it work, we’ll try to implement that program or that trip.”

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Renee Ambroso

Renee Ambroso is the editorial assistant of Durham Magazine. She was born and raised in Durham and attended UNC-Asheville to earn a degree in literature, food systems and culture studies.

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