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50 Plus marks 50 years in 2021

December 29, 2020

Since 1971, the 50 Plus program has served older residents of Johnson County and beyond by providing tools, resources and outlets to help them live and age well.

The department of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District plans to celebrate 50 years of operation in 2021. With the uncertainty of the pandemic, the golden anniversary
will mostly take the form of small in-person and virtual events from January through April.

The events are throwbacks to the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. The tie-in events in the first quarter of 2021 will focus on the 1990s. More details are available in the 50 Plus section of the January-April My JCPRD catalog at jcprd.com. The department also hopes to have a bigger in-person event later in the year to commemorate its milestone anniversary.

“This summer we hope to offer an outdoor event to truly celebrate and commemorate this milestone but will adapt as necessary,” said 50 Plus Manager Michelle Alexander. “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.”

According to Alexander, keys to the program’s longterm success have included:

  • Emphasizing wellness and educational opportunities.
  • Following national and regional trends.
  • Being responsive to the needs and interests of those they serve.
  • Building partnerships with numerous community groups ranging from local health organizations, educational institutions, city park and recreation agencies, national organizations, and other government agencies.

Alexander cites the popular offerings of 50 Plus pickleball as a representation of the program’s continued success.

“We were the first to offer pickleball in our region in 2008. Through research, talking with participants, and our positive relationships with our partners, we were able to start this offering at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center with equipment we were able to get donated through Pickleball.com,” she said. “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.”

Other popular offerings include:

  • An extended travel program, taking participants on trips nationally and globally for the past 48 years.
  • The Side by Side Experience, a singing group, providing entertainment for at least 25 years.
  • A nature walk offering, encouraging aging adults to hike trails in Kansas and Missouri for more than 20 years.
  • The New Horizons Band, providing a place for musicians who haven’t picked up an instrument since middle school the chance to play for the past 15 years.

“Our focus 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,” Alexander said.