OMAHA, NE—Responding to a need for after-work recreation and support programs for area adults, The Den, a local middle-age activity center, opened last month to provide a fun, encouraging environment where 40-to-60-year-olds can interact with others their own age.

Funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Omaha Adult Outreach Program for the purpose of "helping our middle-age community achieve its full potential," the new 14,000-square-foot facility offers an extensive library of self-help books, a large board-game room, an outdoor gardening area, dozens of comfortable couches and flat screen televisions, and a fully stocked liquor cabinet.

"It's really hard being a 47-year-old in this day and age," said Daniel Harger, 22, the center's administrative director. "A lot of folks we serve come from high-risk, single-parent households. We're here to reach out to them† and let them know they belong somewhere."

"When you hit middle age, it can feel like no one understands you, or even tries," Harger added. "Most of the adults who come in here are just looking for somebody to talk to."

Harger said the center welcomes all forty-somethings, but its staff makes sure to give extra attention to so-called latchkey adults, those who work eight-hour shifts and go home to an empty house.

Open Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. until 1 a.m., The Den encourages its members to express themselves creatively by taking part in scrapbook seminars, trivia contests, swing-dance lessons, and divorce counseling. The center also offers a series of free health classes that teach middle-aged students the importance of getting regular cholesterol tests and what to expect when they go for their first colonoscopy.

Glen Rohn, 44, a State Farm Insurance agent, said that before The Den opened there was "nothing to do in this town."

"I wish I was young enough to go to the bars, but I'm not," Rohn said. "It's cool to have a place where I can just be myself, drink a few beers, and play Scattergories with my friends."

Paula Lamberson, a 46-year-old mother of four, said the middle-age center appeals to her because it offers a safe haven where she can escape from pressures at home. Though she† feels smothered by family members who place unreasonable expectations upon her, Lamberson said she fits in at The Den.

"My family's always getting on my case about how I never buy the right kind of cereal at the grocery store or how I didn't do a good enough job on their diorama for history class," Lamberson said. "But my friends here appreciate me. They know what my favorite Josh Groban song is."

When not scheduling a Julia Roberts movie night or field trips to Gerald Ford's birth site, the staff at The Den is busy showing patrons how to set up their AOL accounts and download MP3s of Sting's latest album—not to mention helping them cope with those special challenges they begin to face in midlife.

"These adults may seem a little different because of their haircuts or the way they dress, but when you get to know them, they're actually pretty neat," said counselor Marcus Hughs, 21. "Most of the time they're just trying to deal with relationship problems, how they're going to pay for their kid's college tuition, or getting made fun of by teenagers."

"And of course, they're still getting accustomed to the changes their bodies are going through," Hughs added. "It not easy when your hormones start to simmer down and suddenly you don't have hair in the same places you used to."