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At this Olathe center, the goal is to help everyone ‘be a part of something larger’

If you’re bored in south Johnson County, there’s a community of active people calling out to you. The Olathe Community Center has 84 group exercise programs each week, alongside other activities. And the popularity of this hot-spot is growing.

Shannan Broughton, recreation manager for the city of Olathe, said pick-up basketball games and the swimming pool both draw big crowds. Sometimes, the pool is so full, people are turned away.

The center has recovered well after the pandemic years. In 2020, it saw approximately 86,000 entry scans at its front desk. By the end of 2022, that had nearly doubled to about 161,000.

“Everything has really skyrocketed,” Broughton said. “Our Special Olympics and our adaptive programs — they’ve grown by 150% since the pandemic.”

Those adaptive programs include sensory swimming, bingo nights, dances, a walking club, a bowling league, choir, card games and pickleball.

There’s also the Miracle League baseball, bowling and soccer programs, which pair kids who need a sports-playing buddy with high school students for a season. This year, they’re adding bocce to the mix.

“We want to make sure that anybody who wants to come to the community center can come to the community center,” Broughton said.

That can also mean offering special membership discounts for seniors, college students and others. A recreation scholarship is available for families who need help affording admission to the center and its programs.

“It’s about all of us wanting to be a part of something larger,” she said. “Our main goal is to help everyone who comes into the door find their sense of community, whether that’s group exercise or a pickup basketball game.

“I think that’s where we’re different. It doesn’t matter where you’re at and what stage of life you’re in, we try to be very intentional in having something for everyone.”

A lot of the center’s activities have a special focus on seniors, such as the Silver Sneakers exercise classes or their group travel programs. For the latter, groups might travel to see exhibits or events in downtown Kansas City or venture as far away as Branson.

Alice Shan of Overland Park and Genie Wilcox of Olathe learn a few steps during a line dancing class at the Olathe Community Center.
Alice Shan of Overland Park and Genie Wilcox of Olathe learn a few steps during a line dancing class at the Olathe Community Center.

Linda Sullivan of Spring Hill recently attended a line dancing class at the center.

“It’s great exercise, but it’s good for your mind, too,” she said.

On the other side of the age spectrum, the center offers lots of youth sports. Broughton expects their new youth pickleball league to start this spring.

Parents who want to work out have a daycare where kids ages 6 months to 10 years can stay for a maximum of two hours.

There’s also a full preschool at the center. During the summer, the center offers day camps for preschool, elementary and middle school kids.

And when there’s a snow day, she knows the place will be busy.

“Traditionally, what happens is when schools cancel, (the kids) come to us for open gym and swimming,” Broughton said.

On pre-planned days off from school, the center offers a structured activity program for $45 per child that can include field trips to places like Kauffman Stadium or Skate City, as well as community center-based activities such as swimming.

This summer, the center’s team is planning to have outdoor activities, such as sunrise yoga and kids’ concerts, at Johnson County Square.

Finding the space to do all these varied activities is a challenge sometimes.

“We’ve grown very, very quickly throughout last couple of years. All of programmers do a phenomenal job of programming every open space to the fullest,” Broughton said. “Our largest issue is not being creative. It’s space.”