Northampton Council on Aging airs Senior Center concerns

  • Jeanne Hoose, right, speaks beside Northampton Senior Center director Marie Westburg and Mayor David Narkewicz during a special meeting of the Council on Aging, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz speaks during a special meeting of the Council on Aging, Thursday, at the Northampton Senior Center. Beside him are council members Gerriann Butler, Senior Center director Marie Westburg, and Jeanne Hoose. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Council on Aging member Kathie Bredin speaks during a special meeting of the council, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Senior Center director Marie Westburg, left, speaks beside Mayor David Narkewicz and Jeanne Hoose during a special meeting of the Council on Aging, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Council on Aging member Robert Dionne speaks during a special meeting of the council, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Council on Aging member Kathryn Pekala-Service speaks beside Michael Ford during a special meeting of the council, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Council on Aging member Gerrianne Butler, left, speaks beside Senior Center director Marie Westburg and Mayor David Narkewicz during a special meeting of the council, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Seniors listen as members of the Northampton Council on Aging discuss issues during a special meeting of the council, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Council on Aging member Michael Ford speaks beside Kathryn Pekala-Service, left, and Cynthia Langley during a special meeting of the council, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Senior Center director Marie Westburg speaks during a special meeting of the Council on Aging, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 at the Northampton Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2019 9:49:57 PM
Modified: 12/5/2019 9:49:46 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Candy and soda are back at the Senior Center cafe.

That’s one announcement director Marie Westburg made on Thursday afternoon to the Council on Aging at its special meeting called to discuss criticisms voiced by seniors at last month’s meeting.

More than 50 people attended the Nov. 14 meeting, and many spoke about their issues with the Senior Center, such as what a number of them said was poor communication by Westburg. They also aired concerns about increases in exercise class prices, the elimination of candy and soda in the cafe, and a change in the atmosphere.

“We feel like we get scolded like schoolchildren,” senior Nancy Duseau said last month.

At Thursday’s meeting, the council went through complaints raised at the previous meeting and discussed solutions as 25 attendees listened.

Council member Robert Dionne said he felt that some complaints were “intangibles,” such as calling the center unfriendly or unhappy.

In addressing a complaint that the center was unwelcoming, council member Cynthia Langley suggested asking seniors for specific solutions to make it welcoming.

“What would make it that way?” she asked. “Let’s get some feedback from participants who have a different perspective than those of us who aren’t here as often.”

Kathleen Bredin suggested forming a working group to get tangible recommendations by asking questions like,​​​​​​ “What does welcome mean to you? … What does happiness in the Senior Center mean to you?”

Jeanne Hoose suggested more interaction between Westburg and Senior Center members.

“I know how busy you are,” she said to Westburg, but “interaction with the public has been undervalued.”

She suggested Westburg drop another commitment and spent more time with seniors.

“It’s really important to be out on the front lines and be able to greet people by their names.”

One audience member clapped in agreement.

Westburg recently started doing monthly meetings with seniors over coffee, Bredin noted.

“I think that’s a wonderful thing. I think that, right now, we have a lot of unhappy people that have a lot they want to say, and I think we have some repair we have to do and we need to rebuild this trust that is important,” Bredin said.

She suggested that Westburg consider holding the meetings weekly, and council members could volunteer to assist.

“They are tremendously busy people,” council member Michael Ford said of Senior Center staff. “I would be willing … to come to coffee with the COA (Council on Aging) members.” A number of council members nodded in agreement with his suggestion.

Hoose said members other than the chair put their email addresses on the city website “because we heard what you had to say feeling you needed more access to the people that sit on this council. That’s one way in which we’ve tried to respond.”

Council Chairwoman Geriann Butler said people can submit comments to council members, but members need to be careful to not violate the Open Meeting Law and answer questions individually. “We are a group,” she said of the Council on Aging.

In January, the center will be offering a three-month pilot program where participants can pay for entrances to some fitness classes on a punch card that they can later put toward the classes they want, instead of purchasing specific classes up front.

“I’m hoping that’s something that is fiscally sustainable,” Westburg said.

After the meeting, Butler said, “Hopefully, they (the seniors) understand that we’re working on things,” adding that there is a lot of successful programming at the center. “This place is packed and booming,” she said.

Westburg said she plans to address the seniors’ concerns. “We are all working hard to serve them,” she said.

Several seniors left the meeting feeling positive about the suggestions.

“I think they’re finally thinking about different things that should be going on,” Rita Bouthillette said.

Duseau felt like the council had listened to seniors.

“Some of the comments that came back from them were excellent,” she said.

Gloria Parker also liked some of the suggestions. “If they follow through on some of them — that’s the thing,” she said.

The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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