February 17, 2023 at 3:09 p.m.
Make new friends, see new things: you can be 'Forever Young'
The club started about eight years ago. Chisago Lakes School District Community Education had set a goal of inviting more community engagement with the schools, for people of all ages. Staff member Betsy Sandgren was asked to coordinate community programing specifically for older adults. A few months later, the Forever Young Club was born.
With input from coworkers, Sandgren had christened the new club Forever Young, but she still wasn’t sure what it was going to look like.
Sandgren says that she planned to offer club members information on the school’s community education programs, but she wasn’t at all sure what other activities would most appeal to adults over age 60. So, she chose the direct route.
“I decided to get some people together and ask them what they wanted,” says Sandgren.
The first meeting took place in what was then the school district’s family services office, now occupied by River City Dance studio in Lindstrom. The room was filled with a diverse group. It included the familiar faces of long-time residents and a number of unfamiliar faces —new residents who had recently retired to the area and had found it difficult to meet people and make friends.
Listening to their input, Sandgren learned that newcomers craved social connection and wanted to get acquainted with the community. Long-time residents wanted to get together with others to visit new places they might not go to on their own.
“Over time, we found that what people like most are the field trips,” says Sandgren, “They want to go places and do things together.” Club meetings alternate between fun activities, excursions and informative speakers, with time to chat, and enjoy a snack, or dine together.
Eight years after that first meeting, the Forever Young Club is thriving with a roster of up to 50 members. While members come and go, the membership as a whole continues to include both long-time and new community residents. “It’s a really great mix,” says Sandgren.
The opening of the Wildcat Community Center at the Chisago Lakes Area High School three years ago added new opportunities for the group. The Club meets there, and members can enjoy the free walking track, or take advantage of the weight room, cardio room and other classes.
“Anyone who lives in the school district can walk on the indoor track for free,” explains Sandgren, and many insurance policy supplements for seniors (like Silver Sneakers) help cover the cost of using the cardio and weight rooms, Aquacize or other classes.
Maintaining social contacts can be equally important to seniors as being physically active, studies show.
“The thing I like best is that some of our members are meeting their new best friend through Forever Young” Sandgren explains, “A few years back, two members became such close friends that one woman was the first person the other woman called when her husband died. Two people who met at the club later went on a bus trip together. The warm connections members are making are very rewarding to me,” says Sandgren.
Club members value Forever Young for the social contacts and uncomplicated fun it offers. “I think it’s one of the nicest things I’ve ever done,” says long-time member Jan Schneider. “I can meet new people, and I can visit some of my old friends who are there, too. Betsy finds so many interesting things for us to do—I feel really bad if I miss one. There’s no pressure. Come when you can. It’s fun and interesting, and you don’t have to serve on any committees. It’s just delightful.”
Charlotte Gulbranson, a member since 2018, says she started coming to take part in as many day trips as possible. “I get to see something I would never go to see by myself, and I can go with a group of people.” Her favorite outing to date was a trip to see the ornate pipe organ, calliopes and carousel at Skyrock Farm and the equestrian center in Hamel. “I had never seen anything like it before,” she says.
Charlotte would tell potential new club members, “Come, try it. There are different people coming all the time. You meet new people, and it’s good way to get out.”
Forever Young meets every other Tuesday during the school year. Sandgren arranges monthly field trips. “Often, we charter a bus,” she says, “but sometimes, to save money, we carpool to nearby destinations.” Their most recent trip included a bus trip to see “The Church Basement Ladies.”
There’s more fun ahead. Club members are admitted free to the 1 p.m. Feb. 21 performance of the River City Quartet at the Chisago Lakes High School Performing Arts Center, featuring local father and son John and Dan Chouinard. The event is open to the public for $5 a person.
Club members will be immersed in “FlyOver America” at the Mall of America March 7. Those who attend will sit in a suspended chair in front of a gigantic screen. Special effects including wind, mist and scents, combined with the chair’s motion, will make the audience feel like they’re truly soaring across America coast to coast.. Forever Young Club cost is $38 a person for bus and ticket.
People interested in joining Forever Club pay $25 for a 12-month period that begins each September and ends in August. (The fee is reduced to $15 if you join after Jan.1.) Members also pay the individual costs of admission and transportation for any field trips they attend. The club holds regular meetings throughout the school year with a trip to a Twins game and a potluck lunch planned this summer.
Additional Forever Young Club events for the remainder of this year include:
- Sven’s Clogs tour, March 21, 1 p.m.
- Smoland Prairie Homestead Inn and Burnett Dairy, Grantsburg, Wis., April 4, carpool
- Speaker, April 18, at Wildcat Community Center
- Minnesota Landscape Arboretum tour, May 2, by bus
- Final school year meeting, May 16, 1 p.m., with light refreshments Wildcat Community Center
- Family Twins Game, July 26, and Potluck Picnic later this summer.
If you’d like to take part in these events, register for Forever Young Club on the Chisago Lakes Community Education website or call 651-213-2600 or 651-213-2497.