On a balmy Friday morning in January at the Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LA SED) Senior and Youth Center, the smell of fresh coffee and pan dulce fill the air. On the other side of the room, you can hear the sound of dominos being shuffled and laughter after a game well played. This is a glimpse of daily life for Latino seniors in Southwest Detroit.
Josefina Zaragoza, nicknamed “Fina,” seems to be the most popular person at LA SED.
Fina’s been going to the center almost daily for the last 18 years. Sitting next to her are friends Rita and Dominga. Rita dunks sweet bread into a cup of coffee. After the morning cafe and pan, it’s time for their daily workout.
As 10 a.m. rolls around, instructor Roberto Nearon gets ready for Toalla Fitness, or “Towel Fitness” in English. Toalla Fitness is a group exercise using Nearon’s original style of dance. It incorporates hand towels and a chair, which attracts seniors and participants with limited mobility. Daily exercise helps maintain the ability to live independently and reduces the risk of falling.
While some folks were working out, LA SED’s Program Coordinator, Fernanda Sanchez, and the center’s Executive Director, Mary Carmen Muñoz, share more about the thriving tercera edad in the community. The phrase “la tercera edad” translates to “the third age” in English. It was created as a respectful term to use instead of “old” or “elderly.”
“We are on our path because of the trail they blazed before us,” Muñoz said of la tercera edad community members of Southwest Detroit.
The team shared that the goal for the center has always been to offer programs and services to la tercera edad in the community that keeps them emotionally and physically healthy and independent for as long as possible.
LA SED’s free daily programming starts at 9 a.m. and goes to about 1 p.m. It includes transportation from zip codes 48209, 48210, 48216 and 48217. Participants can receive hot lunches for a small donation of two dollars and a cup of coffee for a quarter.
Wellness workshops run for six weeks at a time, twice a week for one and a half hours. LA SED encourages people to continue their active lifestyles. Workshops and classes offered by the center include dance fitness, living with diabetes, taking control, as well as prevention of chronic illness, anti-scam workshops, “Know-our Rights” workshops, funeral service planning and community storytelling.
Sanchez is working on a computer tech program for la tercera edad in 2023 along with ramping up their quarterly field trips to museums, Frankenmuth, the state capitol, a ride on the Detroit Princess boat and the Golden Corral restaurant.
LA SED suffered a huge hit during the pandemic, losing some to the virus, but continued working remotely to coordinate food drop-offs to make sure people were taken care of and remained as healthy as possible. They also managed a successful pop-up vaccination clinic for the community. Program participation dwindled due to the pandemic. In 2019, the center was servicing 60-80 seniors per day. Today the program averages about 15 to 30 people per day.
Sanchez is hoping to recruit more community members of la tercera edad through presentations at schools, head-start programs and coordinating with other community centers such as Patton Park recreation center for swimming aerobics.
Angela Gallegos is a special projects manager, voice actress and native Southwest Detroiter. She is a creative changemaker passionate about wellness and justice in her community and the world.