|By Michelle Symington|
MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM Last Wednesday morning, local seniors heard the news they have been waiting months to hear who would be named the new executive director of the Agawam Senior Center.
Mayor Richard Cohen and Coleen Hebert, personnel director for the city, visited the Senior Center to tell the seniors that Joan Linnehan has been hired as the new director, an announcement that was followed by cheers from the seniors.
Many seniors lined up to hug and congratulate Linnehan just after the official announcement was made by Cohen.
One senior said, "Our prayers have been answered."
Linnehan thanked everyone and told the seniors, "I love you all."
Cohen said the city received "quite a few" applications from people seeking the position. He said Hebert looked over all of the applications, conducted interviews and made a recommendation to him on Feb. 2.
He said he met with Linnehan on Feb. 3 and offered her the job.
Cohen congratulated Linnehan and said, "We welcome Joannie to our team. She is looking forward to moving the Senior Center to the next stage of development."
Linnehan began her job on Feb. 6 and kept her new position a secret until the formal announcement was made. She only shared the news with family and a few staff members before the announcement. She said once she shared the news, it began to spread like wildfire.
"I have been flying on cloud nine since I heard on Friday," she said. "It has been one of the toughest secrets I have ever had to keep."
Linnehan said she welcomes the new opportunity.
"I thank the mayor for giving me the opportunity. I hope I make you proud," she said. "I know I will work really hard."
Linnehan joined the Agawam Senior Center in 1997 as the activities director and was promoted to deputy director in 2003. She holds a bachelor's degree in social work.
Cohen said many of the seniors expressed concern when Christopher Sparks, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, was named the interim director instead of Linnehan after Richard Mundo retired October 12. He added that there is a process he needed to follow.
He said he is always sure that at the end of the process, he made the right decision.
Linnehan said she decided to apply for the position because she thought it was a natural step for her to take.
"I felt I was qualified and ready to move up to the director [position]," she said.
She said that the transition to becoming the new director should be smooth.
"When you love something, it is that much easier," Linnehan said.
She added that she knows the facility and the seniors.
"I think it is going to be a win-win [situation]," she said.
Although Linnehan is a resident of Springfield, she said she is very active in all parts the Agawam community. She participated in the city's Sesquicentennial Celebration, for example.
"I think I know the community very well now," she said.
Linnehan said that a full-time activities director will be hired in the near future. She added that, although she is the new director, she will not cease being involved in the activities.
She added some major events, which include the volunteer recognition event and the annual golf tournament with the Rotary Club, are coming up in the near future.
"We really have to get moving," she said.
As the new director, Linnehan said she is looking forward to moving the new Senior Center forward, making it a reality.
"I love all the seniors here," she said. "I look to the future and our future includes a state-of-the-art facility."
She added that the current Senior Center has a few noticeable flaws and more space is needed.
Linnehan said building a new Senior Center will revolve around whether or not the funding will be available. An architect has been hired to design the building.
"When the money is available, we will have the center," she said. "I have been told there are grants out there."
Linnehan said the current Senior Center serves over 1,000 seniors each week.
She is hoping the new Center will include some larger rooms where more groups activities ca take place.
She added that she would like to see a more proactive exercise program, which will include treadmills and bikes so that seniors can keep fit and healthy in their elder years.
She said many older residents begin to have health trouble when they become less active.
She also said she will continue to promote dance and music.
"Music is great," she said. "It keeps people happy and active."
City Councilor George Bitzas, who is also the vice chair of the Senior Center Building Advisory Committee for the expansion, is heavily involved with the Senior Center.
"I am glad the mayor picked her," he said about Linnehan. "She is a hard worker and everyone here, the seniors, love her."
Bitzas added that Linnehan has a "great personality" and said he is sure she will do a great job.
"And, we are all here to help her," he said.
He added that he will work with her to see that the new Senior Center is completed as soon as possible.