Community centers

Evidence Rating  
Expert Opinion
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  

Community centers are public venues where community members go for a variety of reasons, including socializing, participating in recreational or educational activities, gaining information, and seeking counseling or support services. Community centers house a variety of programs and can be open to everyone in a community or only to a particular sub-population, such as seniors, youth, or immigrants. Community centers can be run by the government, by local non-profit organizations, or by faith-based groups.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Improved social networks

  • Reduced isolation

  • Improved well-being

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased community involvement

  • Increased civic participation

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated expert opinion.

Engaging community members in community center activities is a suggested strategy to strengthen social connections, reduce social isolation1, 2, 3, 4, and to improve health and well-being among participants1, 2, 3, 5, 6. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Participation in senior centers may increase older adults’ well-being and provide a social space to build supportive networks3, 6. For grandparents raising a grandchild, attendance at a senior center appears to decrease caregiver burdens and improve quality of life6. Community technology centers, community centers that emphasize technology access, appear to support positive youth development and strong peer-to-peer relationships, especially among minority youth in families with low incomes7. Available evidence indicates that residents who complete additional activities at a community technology center are more likely to feel connected to others and to their wider community than residents who complete fewer activities4.

Community centers appear to improve the health and well-being of users by building positive social relationships that include the exchange of resources, information, and emotional support8. Community centers may also increase community engagement and participants’ sense of citizenship5, 9.

In a Boston-based study, neighborhoods with a low density of community centers and recreation facilities were shown to have lower median incomes and larger minority populations than neighborhoods with a higher density of facilities10. Establishing community centers may help reduce disparities in access to services and recreational facilities for residents with low incomes and under-resourced communities5. Addressing community-level barriers to healthy lifestyles, considering social and economic environments, and engaging community members in program development are all suggested best practices for community centers that support healthy living in low income, urban communities11

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated likely to decrease disparities.
Implementation Examples

Community centers are common throughout the U.S., especially in urban and suburban areas. Boston Centers for Youth & Families12, BronxWorks’ community centers13, the Walnut Way Center in Milwaukee14, the Young Men’s Christian Association15, and the Jewish Community Center16 are examples of community centers that provide a variety of programs and services for all ages.

The National Institute of Senior Centers supports about 11,000 senior centers across the country17. The College of Menominee Nation’s community technology center is an example of tribal efforts to provide internet access and outreach services to underserved communities18. Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción’s community technology center provides free computer classes and technology programs to low income individuals and families in Boston19.    

Implementation Resources

Innovation Center 2001 - Innovation Center for Community & Youth Development, National 4-H Council. Building community: A tool kit for youth & adults in charting assets and creating change. Takoma Park: Innovation Center for Community & Youth Development; 2001.

CTCNet-Stone 2003 - Stone A. Center start-up manual. Cambridge: Community Technology Centers’ Network (CTCNet); 2003.

HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA).

NISC - National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Supporting the nation's senior centers.


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1 US DHHS-NPC 2011 - National Prevention Council (NPC). National Prevention Strategy. Washington, DC: Office of the Surgeon General, US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2011.

2 ILR-Ottmann 2006 - Ottmann G, Dickson J, Wright P. Social connectedness and health: A literature review. Ithaca: Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR); 2006.

3 Aday 2019 - Aday RH, Wallace B, Krabill JJ. Linkages between the senior center as a public place and successful aging. Activities, Adaptation and Aging. 2019;43(3):211-231.

4 Grzeslo 2019 - Grzeslo J. Building communities, bridging divides: Community technology centers and social capital. The Journal of Community Informatics. 2019:78-97.

5 CDC-Health equity guide 2013 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A practitioner’s guide for advancing health equity: Community strategies for preventing chronic disease. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2013.

6 Rhynes 2013 - Rhynes LT, Hayslip B, Caballero D, Ingman S. The beneficial effects of senior center attendance on grandparents raising grandchildren. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships. 2013;11(2):162-175.

7 London 2010 - London RA, Pastor M, Servon LJ, Rosner R, Wallace A. The role of community technology centers in youth skill-building and empowerment. Youth & Society. 2010;42(2):199-228.

8 Colistra 2017 - Colistra CM, Schmalz D, Glover T. The meaning of relationship building in the context of the community center and its implications. Journal of park and recreation administration. 2017;35(2):37-50.

9 Glover 2004 - Glover TD. The 'community' center and the social construction of citizenship. Leisure Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 2004;26(1):63-83.

10 Hannon 2006 - Hannon C, Cradock A, Gortmaker SL, et al. Play across Boston: A community initiative to reduce disparities in access to after-school physical activity programs for inner-city youths. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2006;3(3):A100.

11 Broeckling 2015 - Broeckling J, Pinsoneault L, Dahlquist A, Van Hoorn M. Using authentic engagement to improve health outcomes: Community center practices and values (at the agency). Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services. 2015;96(3):165-174.

12 BCYF - City of Boston. Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF).

13 BronxWorks - BronxWorks. Lifting lives, building futures.

14 Walnut Way - Walnut Way Conservation Corp.

15 YMCA - Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The Y.

16 JCC - Jewish Community Centers Association (JCC). Jewish community centers of North America.

17 NISC - National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Supporting the nation's senior centers.

18 CMN-CTC - College of Menominee Nation (CMN). Community technology center.

19 IBA-CTC - Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA). Community technology center.

Date Last Updated