WHITMAN — Heavy rain may have prevented some residents from attending, but the Whitman Council on Aging held an open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 5 to highlight the center’s new hours and the programs it offers.
The COA will now be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays, “regular” hours of from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. will still be in force on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The senior center will also be the town’s new location for processing passport applications.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam, who stopped by with Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green for the event, lauded the change in hours.
“I think it’s wonderful that Barbara is reaching out to the community and offering our services for people seeking passports,” Lynam said. “Obviously, the intent is to serve the public, but also to give an opportunity to showcase our lovely facility and invite people who are young seniors to become familiar with the building.”
The open house, and a growing list of Tuesday evening programs are intended to demonstrate the benefit a senior center can provide — and there is some thought being given to change the name of the Whitman Council on Aging.
The Toll House Center has been suggested, but is not popular with some town officials. Barbara Garvey, Whitman’s Council on Aging Director Garvey and Green jointly suggested Tuesday that the Town Park Center might be an option.
In the meantime, upcoming Tuesday evening events will feature meet and greets with Police Chief Scott Benton and Fire Chief Timothy Grenno on Jan. 10 and a program on real estate tax exemptions with Assessor Kathy Keefe on Jan. 31. In February, a chowder supper is among the programs planned.
Both Garvey and Hanson Multi-Service Senior Center Director Mary Collins have noted the difference in the way Boomers approach aging — and, according to statistics, 10,000 of them have been turning 65 every day since 2011.
“It’s a huge problem,” Garvey said recently. “We’re trying to capture the Baby Boomers, the young seniors. They’re working, they’re caring for their grandchildren, they’re playing golf. It’s a different lifestyle than their parents led.”
She said it appears that Boomers view senior centers as a place “for very old people, and that’s not them.”
One of those seniors with a younger, independent outlook stopped by the Jan. 5 open house for a tour and review of services offered — and made an appointment to discuss legal concerns during attorney Ronald Whitney’s monthly legal advice sessions at the COA.
“I just didn’t think it was time yet to come to the senior center,” a 76-year-old Whitman resident said as she enjoyed refreshments from Trio Café. “I thought I should see what’s going on, see if there’s some programs that I’m interested in.”
She had looked it up on her iPad to see what was offered in case she might someday need the services and decided to attend the open house. The weather almost dissuaded her, but she kept to her plan.
“I think this is a great idea,” she said of the open house. “Uusually I don’t even bother to go out on a rainy night, but I said to myself, ‘Get out, go. You said you were going to go over there.’ So I made myself come.”
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), 70 percent of senior center participants are women, half of those live alone. They also have higher levels of health, social interaction and life satisfaction, but have lower levels of income. Their average age is 75 and they visit their center one to three times per week for and average of 3.3 hours per visit.
Retiree Edward Dinardo is one such frequent visitor to the COA. He stopped by the open house to see what it was all about, and gave the idea high marks.
“It’s a good idea for people who have to work and can’t make it here during the day,” Dinardo said of the new Tuesday evening hours.
He said he likes the monthly “brown bag” food program, which supplies a bag of groceries to seniors, helping them stretch their food budget, and has enjoyed playing bingo and cribbage tournaments there in the past.
“We’re trying to change our programming so that it will interest younger people,” Garvey said, noting that a recent evening program on Medicare aimed at people approaching retirement was very well attended, including those who had not been at the center before.
“We haven’t been open in the evening, but I’m thinking about maybe rearranging hours so that folks that aren’t available during the day would be able to participate and benefit,” Garvey said.
Aside from a social outlet, senior centers connect older adults to services that can help them stay healthy and independent, and according to the NCOA, more than 60 percent of centers are focal points for services through the Older Americans Act. Those services include health, fitness and wellness programs; public benefits counseling; information and nutrition programs among others.
Garvey said events such as paint nights and the possible development of a bocce court are being considered at her center, and Whitman is one of the first towns in the area to offer pickleball, which lost some of its participants when the Abington Senior Center built three new pickleball courts. An Eagle Scout candidate, however, conducted a project to improve the Whitman pickleball courts adjacent to the Police Station last summer.
I see bingo attendance declining,” she said, but new games being offered have begun to draw interest. “Craft classes are well attended, I’m just trying to hone in on what’s successful and what’s not.”
A questionnaire about programs people would like to see is in the works. Every resident 60 and over also receives the Whitman Council on Aging newsletter.