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Playing Games : Bingo can be fun, but it has a serious purpose as well--helping fund nonprofit groups such as the Ventura County Council on Aging.


In case you haven't noticed, bingo is a popular pastime in Ventura County.

Just peruse the 16-page Santa Barbara- Ventura counties edition of the Bingo Bugle, a free monthly newspaper for bingo aficionados. There are bingo games every day of the week in each county.

In fact, a bingo fanatic could choose from 63 bingo games scheduled each week.

Bingo enthusiasts come from every walk of life, says Patricia E. Beinlich, editor-publisher of the local edition of the Bingo Bugle and one for San Diego County.

"My favorite story is about a bingo place in Santa Barbara," Beinlich said. "A limousine was in the parking lot, and both the owner and the driver were inside playing bingo."

Although bingo has been stereotyped as an older person's game, Beinlich says most players are 35 to 55 years of age.

But younger people are also moving in on the game. And bingo is a great way for people of all ages to mix socially. Anyone over 18 can play. And because senior centers are not restricted, you see players in their 20s seated between middle-aged couples and octogenarians.

You might win some money. Of course, you are more likely to lose some money.

But for most people, bingo is a social outlet, says Beinlich, and a comfortable place for a woman to go to alone.

"You can talk to the people around you or just mind your own business and play," she said. "And some of the groups get so friendly that other members check on you if you don't show up for a game."

Despite the entertainment value of bingo, it has a more serious purpose. "Basically, bingo is licensed by the state of California as a fund-raising tool for nonprofit organizations, except in the case of Indian reservations," Beinlich said.

And one of the best examples of a bingo-supported organization is the Ventura County Council on Aging in Oxnard.

Incorporated in 1974, this nonprofit organization acts as an independent advocate for senior citizens throughout the county.

For the last 10 years, the council's Rose Avenue center has occupied a former store in a shopping center.

The space doubles as a 500-person-capacity bingo hall. The group operates on proceeds from its weekly bingo game and annual membership dues of $2.

It does not receive federal, state, county or city funds. And yet with the help of many senior volunteers, the council runs a senior center equipped with a large lending library and pool table.

In addition, the center coordinates outside activities, information and services for seniors including Grey Law, a low-cost legal clinic for senior citizens, and free assistance with income tax forms.

"I think we're unique," senior volunteer Opal Garner said, "because we run (the center) ourselves." The crew of senior volunteers operates a Dial-A-Ride service, a monthly food distribution program and a food pantry for low-income senior citizens and those experiencing financial problems.

And bingo even subsidizes a wellness program at the center for blood pressure and diabetes checks.

Recently, the council made a $25,000 contribution to help finance construction of the new St. John's Regional Medical Center.

"A lot of our people have been in St. John's," said Doris George, the council's board president. "We wanted to show our gratitude to the entire community for supporting bingo as a means of furthering our many seniors programs."

Learn to fight back: Women may feel comfortable attending bingo games alone. But jogging alone, using a bank walk-up window or being alone with a stranger at a real estate open house can be risky situations. A free seminar tonight from 7:30 to 9 at the Westlake Resource Center, 960-2 S. Westlake Blvd., Westlake Village, will use daily activities, such as walking the dog, to teach women how to fight back with their voice, body and body language if attacked in solitary situations. For information, call 497-3500.


The Ventura County Council on Aging Inc. senior center, 4917 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard, is open 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. weekdays except Wednesdays, when it closes at 11:45 a.m. Annual membership dues are $2.

* The Saturday evening bingo games start at 5:30 p.m. and are open to people of all ages.

* A $1 Dial-A-Ride service is available to eligible senior citizens within Oxnard and Port Hueneme for medical appointments or grocery shopping. For an appointment, call 986-4000 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

* Blood pressure and diabetes checks are held the first and third Tuesday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m. No appointment is necessary.

* Government surplus food is distributed the second Tuesday of the month.

* For information on bingo or seniors activities and services, call the council at 986-1424.

* The Bingo Bugle: the Nation's Bingo & Entertainment Newspaper is available at most game locations. For information about daily bingo games, call the Bingo Bugle hot line at (800) 42-BINGO or (800) 422-4646.

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