More than 100 senior citizens enjoyed the traditional holiday luncheon at the senior center last week, served by Rotary Club volunteers. The hall in the basement of the Center Building was buzzing with conversation and laughter and “waiters” squeezing by between chairs. Karen Wagner, an entertainer, added finger-snapping holiday music to provide a background of musical cheer.
The event provides what senior centers all over the nation do: friendly conversation, entertainment and food (stuffed chicken breast with gravy). And for Senior Center Director Jeanette Glicksman and Human Services Director Mary Ellen LaRocca it’s an opportunity to catch up with those who show up: there are the pinochle players, the bridge players, the lunch crew, the “regulars”. Maybe half of the attendees at the luncheon were bused over from the local senior care facilities.
Even recently retired Senior Center Director Lee Canning checked in and among the servers we spotted now-retired School Supt. Dr. Guy Stella along with his successor, Bob Gilbert. The party always is a joyous occasion, and this year was no different.
Planning for the future: But at the administrative level, LaRocca and Glicksman, along with Human Services Commission Chairman Sharon Bender are working hard to bring the senior center into the 21st century. They are trying new programs and are thinking of ways to make the facility itself more attractive. “Our concern is over the viability, the usability,” said Human Services Commission Chairman Sharon Bender at the December 1 Board of Finance budget meeting, where she was asking for funds for a space and needs assessment.
Glicksman had a handout for the finance board members, showing how the state’s population of people over 65 will have increased by 57% between 2010 and 2040. She also had a map of the state showing areas where seniors constitute more than 20% of the total population in black. From 2010 to 2025 that map went from a checkered board to almost all black in 2025. “Connecticut is ageing: Is your town ready?” was the pointed headline.
For years senior center officials have been asking the town for a ramp, for example, to make the facility more easily accessible. There is an elevator that can bring wheelchair-bound people to the lower level, but only one at a time. They also have been asking for a handicap-accessible bathroom in the basement level where their programs are taking place. Some funds have been set aside for the bathroom project, and the town recently solicited bids for architectural drawings. It looks like the project may come to fruition in 2017.
The senior center is located in the basement of the Center Building, which used to be the town’s elementary school before the Beecher Road School opened in the 1960s. The old school cafeteria is where the seniors eat today. Off to the side is a carpeted, comfortable lounge with sofas, tables and books. The director shares an office with the administrative assistant. A computer room has been moved upstairs, to Room 11.
“We are 40 years old and we look it” Glicksman said about the center. She and members of the commission have been visiting senior centers is Westbrook and in Middletown, both of which also are located in former school buildings. It has given them some new ideas what can be done with the existing space.
“Our facility is just not up to snuff,” Bender said at the finance board meeting. “We need to make ourselves relevant and inviting to baby boomers.”
Health and wellness center: It’s with baby boomers in mind that the Human Services Commission is working on a strategic plan. “We have a vision,” Human Services Director Mary Ellen LaRocca said in a conversation last week. “We want to create a center for health and wellness.”
They have started adding both new exercise classes as well as educational offerings. In November, a local staging of an “Antiques Roadshow” type event drew some 50 participants, which may not be as large as the televised events, but it attracted a large variety of ages. “Everyone seemed to be integrating and socializing,” Glicksman said. “We can build on this.”
The push for revitalizing the senior center came from residents who attended a workshop for the Town Plan of Conservation and Development two years ago. Several people there mentioned that the center, though serving octogenarians and up, had few things going for the active seniors in their 60s and 70s. Senior Center officials were quick to take that to heart: They added a walking group and a book club. This fall, they offered pickleball demos and come January they will be starting a pickleball group on Friday afternoons. They hope to include yoga and tai chi in addition to the long-standing exercise classes with Laurie Luce on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so there will be some form of exercise every day.
Some may argue that seniors can join a gym elsewhere to get the health benefit, but a lot of those who come are on a fixed income, Glicksman said. The idea is to have an ongoing, low-cost option every day of the week.
The center also signed on with the ILR (Institute of Learning in Retirement) at Albertus Magnus College, and local seniors can sign up for a variety of classes. Classes are taking place during the day in different area locations, including the Woodbridge Library Meeting Room and several Orange locations.
Glicksman, who previously had volunteered at the library and at the schools, is making use of her many connections to come up with cooperative programming. The Antiques Roadshow, for instance, took place in conjunction with the library; another inter-generational activity is a computer club, with teenagers from the high school helping seniors discover their electronic devices.
Inviting volunteers: Center officials welcome volunteers to help get things done. The annual holiday fair on the first Saturday in November, for example, is now all-volunteer run. It was moved upstairs into the gym, because it had outgrown the cafeteria. Former senior center chef Elaine Marcucio heads up a committee of volunteers that plans and organizes the event. “It became more of a community event,” Glicksman said. It included musical offerings of school groups and adult musicians. The departments at Town Hall offered a silent auction of decorated trees, wreaths and menorahs. “It brought the community out.”
Both Glicksman and LaRocca are encouraging people to bring ideas forward, no matter whether they want to learn something or have a skill to share. For example, one person asked if they could have a dance, Glicksman said. The goal is to keep seniors engaged and healthy so they can stay in their homes and maintain their independence, she said. “People choose to come to the library. We want the same for the senior center.”
An Antiques Roadshow-style event in November is one of a number of new programs organized by the library in conjunction with the Woodbridge Senior Center. Georgia Chavent, right, brought a quilt to a table manned by Joan and Harold Lindy of Rosedoor Appraisals
By Bettina Thiel, Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
- Sisters Dorothy Malerba, left, and Ann Adamovich enjoy the holiday luncheon at the Senior Center
- Senior Center Director Jeanette Glicksman, right, chats with guests at the recent holiday luncheon
- Retired School Superintendent Dr. Guy Stella, right, and his successor Bob Gilbert were among the volunteers serving lunch