Home to Michigan State, East Lansing is mainly known as a college town. But beyond student life, the city also hosts a welcoming environment for its senior and retired residents.
“We’ve added 30 years to life expectancy. What do you do with those 30 years?” Kelly Arndt said. “Seniors themselves are challenged by it, let alone society.”
Arndt, who has been director of the East Lansing Prime Time senior program for more than 28 years, said it’s her philosophy that life should be shared. Arndt said she knows the seniors in this community appreciate life-long learning and what it brings.
From the beginning of her career, Arndt said she has always had an affinity for this age group and wanted to help. Her experience in Battle Creek, Michigan made her want to work for the senior community.
“I would go to work and there’d be seniors sleeping on the benches,” Arndt said. “It was a community that really needed our support in very fundamental ways. Shelter, food — basic ways.”
The program received the Crystal Award from the City of East Lansing in 2004 for the number of volunteers they recruited and trained to help within local schools, the university and the city.
Arndt said in 2007, East Lansing Prime Time achieved national accreditation through the National Council on Aging in Washington D.C. Arndt said she was proud of achieving a status that less than one percent of the nation’s senior centers achieve.
“We’ve heard from several seniors that we’ve saved their lives after spouses passed away and they have no one,” Arndt said. “We’ve had children of aging parents say the same thing … we see the impact that we’re making in their lives.”
Arndt said the program has more than 1,000 members coming from across Mid-Michigan.
“It’s a great gathering place,” said Marcia Van Ness, a Prime Time member. “There’s a good community feel to it. ... (Arndt) is a leader in the community, not just the senior community … she is a credit to the city and the town.”
For Arndt, being in this community is a win-win. She said she feels lucky that the senior community is located in East Lansing, where their needs are being addressed.
“We got students coming over every Friday to teach technology to older adults,” Arndt said. “You should see the exchange, it’s lovely.”
Retired attorney Robert Nelson said there are a variety of ways that East Lansing has helped senior citizens survive.
“We’d like to encourage the youth to be active and to provide their help to (the) seniors so we can interact with them,” Nelson said. “We’re more than willing to do that and to be a part of their experience.”