New Southampton Senior Center director hits ground running

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 09-15-2023 5:41 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — It’s an “exciting time” for the Southampton Senior Center, according to its new director, Christina Johnson, who stepped into the role on Aug. 7.

In the past month, the center has extended its hours, developed new classes, and is working to expand staff and outreach efforts.

“It’s been a very positive feeling coming in,” Johnson said. “People in general are happy with what’s going on here. … It’s been very welcoming.”

Johnson comes with experience at home health care companies and is a former director of the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield.

“In different ways, I’ve been working with seniors for a while now,” she said. “By nature of their age, they’ve lived longer, they have more experiences, more stories to tell, more wisdom. I just really enjoy being around older adults.”

Born in Southampton where she lived until age 5, Johnson grew up in Northampton before attending Connecticut College, where she majored in psychology and history. She then earned a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology at Springfield College.

“After I graduated from my master’s degree, I just ended up working at a home health care company … and I discovered that I really loved working with that population,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t a master plan.”

She remembers meeting a man at another senior center who knocked on her office door, sat down, and showed her pictures of his wife who had just passed a month earlier.

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“All I did was look at these pictures. I didn’t do anything really, but I was there, and he had someone else to share that with,” she said. “It was really special.”

Johnson points to social isolation, loneliness, financial concerns and housing as some of the largest issues facing older adults.

According to the  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, more than one-third of adults older than 45 feel lonely, and a fourth of adults age 65 and older are considered socially isolated.

“One of the main points of a senior center is to be a resource for people, a centralized place that they can call,” said Johnson. “Everything we do is just to help older adults live as independent a life as possible, and a healthy and fulfilling life.”

That means providing social, emotional, intellectual and physical support in the form of classes, exercise, games, guest speakers, van rides, dancing and clubs.

A productive first month

Over her first month as Council on Aging director, Johnson has spent much of her time observing and learning as much as possible from those at the center.

She kicked off her first monthly “Director’s Talk” on Sept. 12, where she and around 12 attendees chatted about big picture programming, problems large and small, and anything else people wanted to talk about.

“My overall goal is not necessarily to change things, but to just grow on things,” she said. “We have some great programming, but I’d like to see more programming. That goal is part of really reaching more people.”

As part of that effort to meet more needs of local seniors, the center’s outreach worker, Kate DiSanto, is now certified as a SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone) counselor, meaning she can provide assistance with Medicare.

“It’s a huge resource we now have,” Johnson said.

Looking ahead, the big ticket item currently in early planning stages is a possible new Southampton Senior Center.

Resident David “Red” Parsons, who died at age 86 in May 2021, left the town $2.5 million in his will, with the caveat that a feasibility study for the new facility be completed within two years of his death.

That feasibility study report was prepared in April 2023 and provides possible site locations, programming ideas, conceptual designs, and cost estimates that range from around $9 to $11 million.

Johnson said the project is still in very early stages and a timeline isn’t yet established.

In the meantime, the Council on Aging is looking to grow its staff with two open positions: a program coordinator and a volunteer coordinator.

“This will be the most people that are actually employed at the senior center at the same time,” Johnson said.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.]]>