Guest columnist Rosemary Kofler: Amherst Senior Center needs attention

Amherst Town Hall

Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By ROSEMARY KOFLER

Published: 02-05-2024 4:42 PM

In response to the Jan. 11 Gazette article “Seniors seeking a better shake from the town,” I wish to share my observations.

During the 20 years that I volunteered at the Amherst Senior Center, I witnessed numerous ways in which the center serves elders. Although the following is a hypothetical case, it is a common example as to how the Senior Center serves older adults.

Meet Jane Doe, an 83-year-old widow who lives alone in the modest home which she and her husband occupied for 50 years. Although Jane does not have any family members who live nearby, she is able to manage independently in large part because of the services and programs provided by the Senior Center.

On a daily basis, Jane, before COVID, took the van to the Senior Center for lunch. She sat with friends and enjoyed a hot, nourishing meal. Since Jane no longer drives, the van also picks her up so she can attend programs at the Senior Center several days a week. Over the years, she has attended classes in Gentle Fitness for physical conditioning, New Options for mental stimulation, educational health seminars, and cribbage games for fun.

Since Jane lives on a limited income, the free or low-cost classes make it possible for her to participate in a variety of activities that maintain her physical and mental health in addition to providing social pleasure. The social worker at the Senior Center was helpful to Jane over the years with referrals for assistance in the home, financial advice, health care advisers and help for outdoor yardwork. When Jane had surgery three years ago, the social worker arranged to have meals delivered until Jane was back on her feet.

How many of you know someone or have a parent who someday could benefit from such services within their community? Wouldn’t you derive some peace of mind knowing that senior had opportunities for educational, physical and social programs to keep their minds and bodies active?

We all know the alternative could mean loneliness, depression and failing health. An AARP survey shows that loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health and impaired quality of life among older adults. Health outcomes can be improved by social engagement.

The space allotted to the Senior Center within the Bangs Community Center is about 7,000 square feet, some of which is shared by others in town. That amount of space is not adequate and it limits the scheduling of the many activities the center would like to offer each month.

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In 2022, a small survey was done of seven senior centers in the Pioneer Valley. Every other center has between 10 and 20,000 square feet for programs and services, despite the fact that most towns have a smaller senior population than Amherst. The Amherst Senior Center space has not been expanded since 1978, yet the senior population grew by 39% from 2000 to 2010, and the baby boomers add steadily to the numbers.

Amherst currently has more than 5,500 senior citizens, many of whom over the years have helped to finance schools, community projects and served the town on committees. Now it is time for the town to adequately support the seniors. The Amherst Senior Center needs more and improved space, a bigger budget, and more staff to do the work necessary to help aging residents.

The goal of the Senior Center is to help elders maintain their wellness, dignity, independence, and ability to age in place, and be an active part of the community as long as possible.

Rosemary Kofler lives in Amherst.