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Senior Class

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

December 11 -- “The City of Santa Monica is a great place to work,” Anita Ybarra says as afternoon sunlight filters through the windows of the Senior Recreation Center in Palisades Park.

About a dozen senior citizens are playing cards in an adjoining room, while two more shoot pool nearby.

Earlier that day, some 200 seniors received flu shots at the center, Ybarra says.

Anita Ybarra is in charge of a wide array of City programs. (Photo by Gene Williams)

Ybarra has worked for the City nearly half of her life, and it’s easy to tell that she really likes what she does.

“The feeling that I’m making a difference to somebody,” Ybarra says, “that's the great part of my job.”

For the past 18 years, Ybarra – who is the principal community services supervisor for the City’s community classes, senior programs and volunteer opportunities – has been in charge of a variety of programs.

Her greatest challenge, she says, is finding “enough time to get everything done.”

Some 7,000 people enroll in her community classes each year – everything from Tai Chi and art to tennis and surfing.

Ybarra also oversees a program that has placed some 500 volunteers at libraries, parks, the animal shelter and other City facilities around town.

And then there are the senior activities that include fitness classes, games, sing-a-longs, daily lunches, movies, trips to Vegas and a two-dollar-a-plate Thanksgiving meal at Fred Deni's Back on Broadway restaurant.

Her clients come in nearly all ages, but it seems that Santa Monica’s seniors have found a special place in her heart.

“They’re a kick. They’re really a hoot,” Ybarra says, eager to debunk the stereotypes that she thinks have given older folks a bad rap.

“Some people say seniors are grumpy or they’re this or that, but 98 percent of them are just great,” she says. “It’s the other two percent who are just, you know, really difficult. But they’ve been difficult their whole lives.”

Every Monday from 2 to 4 p.m., the Senior Center hosts a dance with a live band. “They boogie!” Ybarra says. “Let me tell you. They move!”

And then there are the stories she’s heard from clients who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Some of the stories go all the way back to when women won the right to vote.

“The thing I hear from the seniors is, they’ve lived,” Ybarra says. “They’ve lived through a lot of things, and they have a lot of wisdom.”

Now that the boomers are getting up in years, Ybarra and her staff are gearing up for a whole new set of clients at the Senior Center.

“We’re strategizing and researching how to meet the needs of the baby boomers as they enter the senior population,” she says. “The trends and studies we see are that they’re active. They want to do stuff.”

But that “stuff” will likely be a little different than what her current clients like to do, Ybarra says.

“These were the children of the ‘60s that were, you know, ‘Peace and freedom, and don’t you dare call me a senior,’” she says.

But Ybarra seems up for the challenge. “Service to the public,” she says, is what she’s all about.

“I totally believe that service to others is the small rent we pay for our space on Earth,” Ybarra says. “That’s been my philosophy.”

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