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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Man About Town: Fairfield Senior Center

Man About Town
Senior Center: Where the second half of life begins
(column for June 15 Fairfield Citizen news)
By Mike Lauterborn

Nestled near the shore, there is an invaluable resource for the town’s senior citizens – the Fairfield Senior Center at 100 Mona Terrace. Serving the community for nearly 30 years, the facility is by no means a last stop for the town’s elder residents. It is, in fact, a gateway to a wide array of opportunities, learning experiences, crucial support and new friendships. Pausing for a moment one recent weekday morning, Director Claire Grace spent a moment to offer some historical background, an overview and a program rundown.

“The building was originally Oldfield Elementary School,” said Grace. “In 1983, during Jacky Durrell’s administration, it was renovated as a senior center. Before that, there was just a small facility for seniors at One Rod Highway, which is no longer there. Martha Plotkin Hyra, then director of human services for the town, really pushed for the new center. There needed to be a place for seniors to go and comprehensive programming.”

At the request of the first director, Eileen Milazzo, Grace came aboard in 1992. “It was supposed to have been a six-month deal, but I’ve been here ever since,” she said. “Initially, we just offered simple diversions, but soon realized seniors need a whole lot more.”

Today, the building encompasses a wide assortment of features. A library with about 500 books and magazines. Meeting rooms for various uses. An exercise room with bikes and a treadmill. A sewing bee. A computer room. Ping pong and pool rooms. A gymnasium for fitness classes. A woodworking shop. A gift shop with handcrafted items. Outdoor bocce court. TV room. A cafeteria. A social services office. It’s a world unto itself.

The building itself has not changed at all over the years and is just now getting a facelift: new paint job, rugs, sound system and remodeled bathrooms. The town is paying much of the expense – the balance comes from donations and an internal board. “Cindi Bigelow, president of Bigelow Tea, has also been a constant source of financial help for us,” said Grace.
Besides the tangible facility features, programs and services include Elderhostel courses for lifelong learners, continuing education, Medicare counseling and home visit outreach.

Another popular extension is the Pacers. “These are seniors that walk three times a week, rain or shine,” said Administrator Janet Merando. “The model airplane group, which builds and flies their own planes, is also fun, and our woodcarvers are very talented.”

A critical element for many is the shuttle bus, which runs five days a week. “The service has just logged 1.4 million miles over the past 23 years,” said Hank Steffens, the transportation dispatcher. “On average, we pick up and deliver about 15,000 seniors a year.”

Of course, patron feedback is the true measure of a center’s success, and they give it a thumbs-up. “I come to play ping pong with a tight group of friends here,” said Joyce Bernfeld. “It’s a great place to socialize and exercise.” Similarly, sewing bee participant Sandy Clabby said, “We have friendship, an opportunity to learn new skills and even take day trips. This keeps us very young at heart.”

“Seniors in Fairfield are very fortunate,” concluded Director Grace. “A lot of towns don’t have half of what we offer.”

Sadly, this would be my last Man About Town excursion, due to budget cutbacks at the Fairfield Citizen. I hope that my enthusiasm for Fairfield has rubbed off on readers of my column and I will continue to champion our town where possible in my other writing extensions. See you around the ‘hood.

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