Jul 27, 2014

Fairfield Senior Center Asks for Full-Time Director

The Top 10 Committee tasked with determining the center's most urgent needs gave its recommendations to the Board of Selectmen.

Fairfield Senior Center Asks for Full-Time Director

"A community has an obligation to its seniors because we all stand on the foundations they built," according to a report released by the Fairfield Senior Center's Top 10 Committee.

One of those obligations is maintaining the Senior Center -- but that's not enough, members of the committee told the Board of Selectmen this month. The Fairfield Senior Center must "reinvent itself," according to the report.

And so the committee, responsible for evaluating the needs and requests of Fairfield's seniors in order to revitalize the center, delivered recommendations to the Board of Selectmen ahead of the upcoming budget season.

The full report of the committee's findings and suggestions can be found here, but staffing and perception were the top matters the committee addressed.

As Fairfield's population ages, "we're seeing a tremendous increase in demand and a decline in resources," said Ron Atwater, member of the Top 10 Committee and the Fairfield Senior Citizens Association.

The committee recommends that the town hire a full-time director for the Senior Center. Claire Grace, the town's Human Services Director, also serves as a part-time director for the center and plans to retire at the end of the year.

Staffing directly relates to the budget and the quality of the services offered at the center, Atwater said. As part of the committee's report, the members evaluated six other senior centers in the state: in Wallingford, Westport, Milford, West Hartford, Greenwich, and New Fairfield. Each of those centers had a full-time director.

The committee also suggests that the center needs a part-time receptionist and a part-time social worker to supplement the rest of the staff, which is currently comprised of one full-time member (a secretary). The other positions are part-time. The staffing recommendations -- including a distinct, full-time director -- would cost $117,000, the report estimates.

In addition to staffing, the committee members addressed the image of the senior center. According to the study, more seniors continue to work, and modern seniors don't think of themselves as "old."

"People don't know much about the center and the perception is that decrepit old people go there to get free lunch," Dr. Richard DeAngelis, chairman of the Top 10 Committee, said.

One way to revitalize the center's image is to rename it, and eliminate "senior" as part of the description, according to the report.

Other recommendations include adding more programs -- like enhanced exercise programs, and expanded computer courses -- and social functions.

The committee also said that the center stay open late at least one night a week and for one weekend afternoon to allow working seniors to enjoy the center's offerings. The center's current hours are 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The report also included some recommendations for the Mona Terrace building itself, including a list of suggested repairs and renovations and possibly conducting a feasibility study for the structure.  

Following the presentation, First Selectman Michael Tetreau suggested the Top 10 Committee present its findings to the RTM, which is currently reviewing the town's senior tax relief ordinance.

The RTM's proposed changes to the tax relief program carry a price tag of up to $2 million, Tetreau said. He asked Human Services Commission whether or not they should consider putting that money toward tax relief or toward the revitalizing the senior center.

The tax program is a "totally different issue," said Human Services Commission member Nancy Legare, who also served on the Top 10 Committee. "I think your question is two separate items -- tax relief doesn't have anything to do with this report."

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