WESTFIELD – More than two decades after the original petitions were signed, Westfield has a new senior center.
The Westfield Senior Center opened its doors on Oct. 26 to seniors who were both new to the center’s programming and regulars from the old site on Main Street, according to Tina Gorman, executive director of the Council on Aging.
“We saw a lot of new faces, a lot of people that told us they never went to the other senior center or they were there once and that was it because there was no place to park. It wasn’t accessible. It was small. These were all the things we already know,” Gorman said. “They are just really excited about this one. I think there are people that are coming in and bringing new ideas.”
The new Westfield Senior Center on Noble Street features a fitness room, a game room, a large cafeteria, a wellness center and multipurpose rooms. The high ceilings welcome natural light, and Gorman said it is “day and night” between the former center and the new one.
“My expectation, and I said this several months ago and it really did come to fruition, people who had never been in the other senior center walked in and said, ‘Wow, this is beautiful,’ Gorman said. “People who were my regulars at the other senior center were literally almost speechless because it was such a contrast from where we came from, and that’s exactly what I anticipated. They just couldn’t believe it.”
Among the changes, Gorman said almost every staff member has his or her own office space, which allows privacy for seniors who want to come in and discuss health, financial or family issues. Previously, up to three staff members were sharing office space.
Aside from the additional office space, Gorman said the sheer size of the building and new space is a change that affects everything the center does.
“I think the big thing for us that is so different here is that we have so many different rooms as opposed to having what I used to call the one-room schoolhouse. Pretty much everything happened in that dining room,” Gorman said. “My nursing services were in there. The travel club was in there. Meals, if we did an exercise program, if we had a party, if we played cards, if we did bingo, it was all in the same room. You couldn’t do more than one thing at a time.”
This flexibility will allow the center to expand its services and programming, she said. Full programming will begin on Nov. 2, including lunches, regular meetings and sample fitness classes with the YMCA.
Gorman said she is thankful to have the new building up and running after more than 20 years of waiting.
“My mantra really became, ‘It’s our turn.’ The seniors waited really patiently for this to happen, and in the meantime, we’ve built schools, renovated buildings. We did those things, and all those things are important,” Gorman said. “This was just always on the backburner. It really took until Mayor [Daniel] Knapik came in six years ago and put it on the front burner and said we have to do this.
“I have to tell you, the seniors were skeptical. I was skeptical, only because every mayor had promised it,” she continued. “I think what they were saying was we need to do this. They weren’t saying we need to make this a priority. Everybody agreed that we needed to do this. It really took someone that not only said we need to do it, but we’re going to do it.”
The Noble Street location, she said, allows for more seniors to take advantage of its amenities, as three senior housing complexes surround it. In previous years, the center has been able to serve 2,000 seniors annually, about 25 percent of the senior population. Gorman’s hope is that will increase and more seniors will learn of the agencies and programs available to them.
“We really are a social service agency, and for many seniors, their council on aging is their first stop,” Gorman said.
The Westfield Senior Center staff is able to refer seniors to appropriate agencies and educate them about benefits that are available.
“My hope is that the seniors will really begin to take advantage of the services that are available not just through the Council on Aging or the programs offered at the senior center, but through other agencies,” she said. “If they’re entitled to benefits and don’t know about them, they’re not going to get them.”
Gorman said a steady stream of visitors came through on the first day, and though she and her staff were tired from the quick turnaround, she was relieved.
“People kept saying to the staff, ‘Oh, you must be so excited,’ but there was a lot of angst involved. I kept thinking to myself, excitement is not the word I would use. I’m nervous. I’m exhausted. I’m really anxious,” she said. “Is everything going to go right? Have we covered all of our bases? Is there a major thing we forgot about? I think now the staff, myself included, can take a step back and breathe a little sigh of relief.”
The Westfield Senior Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.