Thriving Together

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Susi Q yoga_Cory Sparkuhl
Laguna Beach Seniors operates out of the Laguna Beach Community & Susi Q Senior Center, where classes and other programs are offered. | Photo by Cory Sparkuhl

The Laguna Beach Community & Susi Q Senior Center enhances well-being and connection in town.

By Tanya A. Yacina


As we age, the diversity of our needs evolves, and maintaining overall well-being, dignity and independence as seniors can be challenging. To address this, Laguna Beach Seniors was founded in 1975 to provide outreach and social programs to older adults.

Initially operating mainly as a volunteer organization out of the American Legion building—where the group offered minimal programming and served lunch—the nonprofit later determined that the growing population of seniors required an expanded facility. With a successfully funded capital campaign, the Laguna Beach Community & Susi Q Senior Center was born in 2009, though the two entities operate independently from one another.

“It is estimated that one-third of the Laguna Beach population is considered a senior, translating to nearly 8,000 individuals,” says Nadia Babayi, executive director of Laguna Beach Seniors. “As such, the center has quickly become an essential aspect of senior life in town. … While there is a wide continuum of needs, most seniors are in need of some level of support and have found county services to be erratic and/or limited.”

Babayi, whose own passion for working with older adults began when she accompanied her mother to events at the Lakeview Senior Center in Irvine, says the Susi Q was named after well-known Laguna Beach resident Elizabeth Quilter, who wrote a column for a local newspaper under that pseudonym. The 8,000-square-foot facility, located on the same campus as the local community center, is leased from the city for $1 per year.

“Volunteers and staff make it possible for this population to avoid the isolation that frequently plagues the elderly and keep them connected to their community. The center helps them find a peace of mind that is often elusive, whether through yoga classes, intervention by case managers or the opportunity to become involved in special interest groups that keep mind and body more agile,” Babayi explains. “Most importantly, each senior has the opportunity to obtain the support needed to live as full and independent a life as they choose to.”

Babayi says the Susi Q’s programming is designed for individuals age 50 and over—though the average age of the participants is 70—and two-thirds are female. All of the center’s support services, classes and special programs are open to older adults in Laguna Beach as well as those who live in surrounding cities in south Orange County.


Inspiring Independence

Both Laguna Beach Seniors and the Susi Q Senior Center assist older adults with determining solutions and building skills for coping with the challenges that stem from aging.


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Susi Q counseling staff, including (from left) Anne Schroeder, Vivian Clecak, Martha Hernandez and Kathleen Wenger | Photo by Jo Ann Ekblad

Showing Support

There are a number of different gatherings available through the Susi Q Senior Center, all of them complimentary, from chronic illness support groups and Women Supporting Women to Death Cafe, a virtual monthly discussion about participants’ feelings on mortality. In addition, locals can take advantage of legal clinics, a grief and loss series, Medicare information sessions, one-on-one counseling for mental health, hearing screenings and more. There is also a care management department that helps individuals process their situation and presents them with resources. “Participants seek information and linkage to services for care giving, affordable housing, unmet medical and health needs, financial assistance and home safety,” notes Nadia Babayi, executive director of Laguna Beach Seniors.


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Artists showing pieces from a Gallery Q show | Photo by Jo Ann Ekblad

All About the Art

Art and creativity is an essential part of the Susi Q’s programming—the center even has its own exhibit space. Named Gallery Q, the space provides opportunities for self-expression and artistic creation, offering a chance for older adults to get involved. Now in its 15th year, Gallery Q typically puts on five shows a year from emerging and professional artists. “Seniors’ lives are impacted through direct involvement with the arts, resulting in enhancement in health, interpersonal skills and cognitive [or] psychological behaviors,” Babayi explains. “Engaging in creative activity or simply attending artistic events is stimulating while lowering stress and improving physical health. Arts engagement widens and strengthens social bonds, [too,] which also improve[s] health.”


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Novelist Janelle Brown (left) during a previous Evening With an Author event | Photo by Jeff Rovner

Tempting Titles

One of the Susi Q’s newest programs is the Evening With an Author series, which launched last spring. Held three times per year, the early evening sessions feature discussions with Southern California writers about their bestselling books. Open to attendees of all ages, this year’s series started in February with a talk from Héctor Tobar, author of “Our Migrant Souls,” which touches on what it means to be a modern Latino. On June 3, novelist Michelle Huneven will be in conversation about her latest story, “Search,” a fictional memoir of a food critic, and her other titles. The final event will be held Oct. 7 with Jonathan Lethem. “This program … helps expand the literary horizons for many people,” Babayi says. “… Research shows that reading helps to build our ability to focus and grasp complex ideas. It also strengthens our ability to remember details and think through complex problems, which benefits everyone—and especially older adults.”

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