SENIOR citizens in the Bay can join their peers at special day care centres created for the elderly, where they can enjoy daily programmes to keep them active and independent.Two elderly day care centres, run by Retha van der Merwe, aim at providing older people in the community with activities to keep them occupied. Van der Merwe, who has been working as a social worker for the last 52 years, is the founder and manager of ACVV Retha van der Merwe Retirement Home in Algoa Park and ACVV Govan Mbeki Community Centre.She said, while working as a social worker for ACVV PE South Branch in 1967, the community in Algoa Park approached her to start a similar centre for elderly people in the area. She then approached the Department of Social Development for assistance.After many obstacles, the seventh ACVV centre in Port Elizabeth was opened in 1985. “The first office was in an apartment with 10 elderly women in Algoa Park but later as the need for the facility increased, they built a bigger centre for the community,” said Van der Merwe.In 2006 van der Merwe opened another centre in Govan Mbeki, which was sponsored by the South African National Lottery. Both centres offer affordable retirement homes for 200 families and they offer community-based developmental programmes to 256 elderly community members from Monday to Friday at a cost of R5 a month.Van der Merwe, who is an avid soccer player, says it is best for older people to live with their families, while they are kept busy at the centre during the day.“Old age homes are very expensive and not everyone can afford it. “We therefore want to cater for people in the lower income bracket by providing them with care during the daytime,” Van der Merwe said.She believes there should be more day care centres for the elderly to keep them active and healthy.“Our policy and vision remain that older persons need to function independently in the community for as long as possible. Older people don’t want to be a burden. They want to be of worth to the community,” she said.Van der Merwe, who initiated the ACVV sports day 40 years ago, said their day care programme offered sporting activities, which include soccer and netball, and the centre also had a health clinic to test for blood pressure and glucose levels. There are also exercise programmes, bead working, choir practice, social functions and outings.“It is important for elderly people to make use of their talents so that they can remain independent. People do not stop dancing and living when they grow old, they grow old when they stop dancing and living,” Van der Merwe said.She said it was important to include elderly people in their decision making on how the programme should be conducted.“We purposefully strive to acknowledge older persons by involving them in the management and operation of the service centres. “It is important to make the community happy so they should be the ones to decide what is on the programme each day,” Van der Merwe said.