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An initiative championed by philanthropist Wallis Annenberg to support aging adults in Los Angeles will celebrate its opening on April 25 at the Audrey Irmas Pavilion next to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown.
Wallis Annenberg GenSpace will offer area seniors programming intended to enrich their lives. Through events, classes and other activities, the Annenberg Foundation hopes to support an aging population that is growing larger by the day.
GenSpace director Jennifer Wong said the opening of the center is “incredibly important and incredibly timely,” especially with the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly waning. She said many seniors were isolated over the past two years.
“How do we get them to come back into the community and how do we get them comfortable? How do we get them engaged? We’re up for the challenge, for sure,” Wong said.
Annenberg came up with the concept years ago after she witnessed older adults entertaining themselves at parks, restaurants and movie theaters – alone. During an interview with the Beverly Press in September, she said aging has a negative connotation that must be changed.
“We need to turn the narrative on its head,” Annenberg said. “We need to embrace seniors for the enormous amount they’ve given us and still have to give. This is what our GenSpace leadership initiative is about. Overall, the reception to this latest project … has been great so far, but believe me, we’re just getting started.”
Wong said the reception has been “really great” thus far. GenSpace has hosted virtual classes on nutrition and exercise over the last few months, and they have been well-received, she said. Those will continue, with some potential hybrid options being planned for individuals seeking in-person engagement.
One class, seated fitness, has garnered a lot of participation, which was somewhat unexpected, Wong said. She said GenSpace will continue to offer that virtual class while fine-tuning its offerings to support older adults.
“We know that many older adults have stayed at home for about two years or more now, so we want to be really receptive to what would be fun and enjoyable to them,” Wong added.
She said every element of the location – from the floors and walls to the lighting and design – was constructed with older adults in mind. Wong praised architect Susi Stadler’s work on the center.
“[The construction] was done very, very, very intentionally,” Wong said. “She is an age-friendly architect that has many experiences with both homes for older adults and commercial spaces as well.”
She said GenSpace was also intentionally located near Metro’s Purple Line, and organizers lobbied to have an entrance placed right off Wilshire Boulevard.
“We know that older adults may feel less comfortable driving – or may not be driving or may have never driven – so public transportation and rideshare and community transportation are really important to us,” Wong added.
GenSpace will offer activities and events centered around wellness, creativity, technology exploration, financial security, curiosity and imagination. Wong said it will also promote intergenerational opportunities.
“So much of our intergenerational connection is how much older people can mentor younger people or younger people can mentor older adults, but there’s something super sweet about doing an art project or learning about a piece of history for the first time together,” she said. “That social engagement and those creative opportunities are so special to me.”
Wong said GenSpace is hosting a soft opening due to COVID-19 concerns, but organizers are excited to welcome the community.
“We understand that it’s a brand-new building, a building that most folks haven’t been in before because it was built during the pandemic,” she added. “We’d love to get people oriented to the building and oriented to the space.”
GenSpace will also offer a fitness studio, horticultural therapy space and “tech bar” as well. While the virtual programming is free, GenSpace will offer memberships for $10 per month “with a sliding scale,” Wong said.
“We don’t intend to turn anyone away,” she added.
GenSpace has five rooms that can be used for programming, but only one class will run at a time during the soft opening. The center, which is approximately 7,000 square feet, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It is located at 3643 Wilshire Blvd., Level 3, on the Wilshire Boulevard Temple campus.
Wong said GenSpace has plenty of volunteer opportunities, and training will be held each Wednesday. Donations are also welcome.
For information, visit genspace.la.
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