The City of San Marcos is home to about 25,000 residents 50 years and older who are approaching retirement–or are in the thick of it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to slow down.
In fact, the San Marcos Senior Activity Center is buzzing with action. It serves about 7,000 senior residents per month, largely thanks to the dozens of volunteers who help run it. They do things like work the front desk, help in the computer lab and lead activities.
“Our volunteers bring a variety of talents that improve our services, and their support allows us to offer them at lower cost. That’s especially helpful to seniors on a fixed income,” said Parks and Recreation Manager Brenda Sylvia, who oversees the Senior Activity Center. “Volunteers are absolutely critical to our mission.”
A collaboration with California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) will help the City attract more of those critical volunteers.
The City and CSUSM recently joined forces to launch Democracy in Action, a program that lets university students tackle city issues. Unlike an internship, students are not given direction—but instead, make research-based recommendations, more like a consultant.
In this case, a group of about 30 students developed strategies to entice more volunteers to the City’s Senior Activity Center. This included designing marketing materials, creating a formal orientation process and finding missed opportunities to recruit volunteers. City staff is now fine-tuning the student-proposed strategies and plans to start rolling it out within the next few months.
“As North County’s education hub, San Marcos is fortunate to have plenty of bright young minds that offer a fresh perspective—something we greatly value here at the City,” Sylvia said. “Well-run cities with engaged residents lead to vibrant, thriving communities. If we want that to continue in San Marcos, we need to connect with our next generation of leaders and Democracy in Action is helping us do that. ”
This gets at the heart of Democracy in Action. The program’s bigger aim is to show students how their classroom knowledge applies to the outside world.
Dr. Eliza Bigham, CSUSM Department of Human Development, oversaw the students who worked on this project and she’s confident they left feeling empowered.
“Working with city staff and meeting with elected officials required my students to try something new and go outside their comfort zone. But I can’t tell you how many of them thanked me for the opportunity to grow through this experience,” she said. “They discovered that their skill set is so completely beneficial to address real, current needs in their own community.”
And Economic Development Manager Tess Sangster, who helps oversee the program, points out that this project benefits the community at-large.
“By boosting volunteer support at the Senior Activity Center, these students are helping residents age in place so that they can continue enjoying a high quality of life in San Marcos,” she said. “That’s a legacy we want to continue offering for generations to come, and projects like these are one of the many ways we’re making sure we can.”
To learn more about the Democracy in Action program, visit www.csusm.edu/community/civiclearning/democracyinaction.html. For more information about the San Marcos Senior Activity Center, including information about volunteer opportunities, visit www.san-marcos.net/adults50+.