SPRINGFIELD â€” For many active seniors, the idea of visiting a senior center evokes visions of walkers, knitting clubs and bland food, but the staff at the Raymond A. Jordan Senior Center at Blunt Park is doing everything it can to let people know this state-of-the-art $12 million center is not your grandmotherâ€™s hangout spot … except, it is.
â€śThere is a misconception that senior centers are for people who arenâ€™t active anymore, but itâ€™s quite the opposite,â€ś said Sandy Federico, director of the senior center. â€śWe have so many vibrant seniors who are full of joy and full of life. It makes this a wonderful place to work.â€ť
The staff at the center, which is situated among the trees in Springfieldâ€™s Blunt Park, welcome anyone 55 years and older from anywhere in Hampden County, and they make it easy to become a member.
The initial registration is one page long and there is no fee. After the initial registration and first visit, members can come and go using a keycard.
The center feels less like a bleak facility for the elderly and more like a luxurious country club.
In the morning, a small cafĂ© serves up freshly brewed coffee and pastries, which members can drink at the little cafĂ© or take with them to the dining area featuring large windows with a view of the picturesque trees in Blunt Park.
In the mood for some quiet time? There is a library with plush arm chairs and cozy reading corners. Got a new Samsung phone for Christmas or maybe a MacBook pro? Members can take computer and technology classes to learn how to do more than just check their email.
For those interested in a little fun, there are pool tables on the second floor and an activity room open for anyone wanting to start anything from an in-depth book club to bingo and much more.
â€śI think the pool room is my favorite, I want my office in here,â€ť said Cindy Coughlin, senior program coordinator for the center. â€śWe have a pool league, and seniors are teaching each other to play. Itâ€™s great.â€ť
One of the highlights is the fitness center, which features all new equipment.
â€śThe cardio side is the most popular,â€ť said Kerry Welch, the health and wellness coordinator. â€śRight now, we have four treadmills, two recumbent bikes with back support, one upright bike, a seated stepper for those who canâ€™t stand on the treadmill but still want a good workout for their arms and legs, and we have hand bicycles for upper body workouts. These are wheelchair accessible.â€ť
Welch runs the gym daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and said itâ€™s busiest in the mornings.
â€śWe have a larger crowd in the morning, but itâ€™s pretty steady throughout the day,â€ť he said.
Welch said there is no need to be intimidated, even for those who have not been in a gym in years.
â€śAs long as they get an approval from their doctor, they can come in and I will teach them how to use all of the machines and help them with the settings depending on their height,â€ť he said. â€śWe have weight equipment, but everything starts at 10 pounds, so anyone can do it.â€ť
For those who prefer group exercise, the center offers everything from walking groups to tai chi and aerobic dance classes.
Kim Norrington, a professional dance instructor, has taught several classes at the center.
â€śThe idea is just to get people moving in a fun and comfortable environment,â€ť she said. â€śI personally hate going to the gym, but with dance I am still moving and keeping myself active.â€ť
Springfield resident Marvo Perry has taken full advantage of what the center has to offer.
â€śAs a person of senior age, sometimes we sit around, and we mope, but this is a way to come out and be around other people and do something good for your mind and your body,â€ť she said.
Perry enjoys taking tai chi and dance aerobics as well as having lunch with friends in the beautiful dining room.
â€śThis is a wonderful place to meet new people and to communicate and enjoy each otherâ€™s company,â€ť she said.
The dining room at the center is one way the staff entice seniors to participate. Itâ€™s a great place to get a healthy, fresh, delicious meal on a fixed income. The staff prepares food with locally sourced ingredients and makes sure to offer up colorful, healthy plates with a wide variety of options.
â€śWe have an on-site chef and offer two meal options as well as fresh fruit, dessert, coffee, tea and milk every day for $3.50,â€ť Federico said. â€śThat price alone is huge for many of our seniors who are on a fixed income, but still want to go out and have a meal with friends. They can bring containers and take leftovers home as well.â€ť
The center also provides many social services from a nursing station to a career center for those who may have retired or lost a job but are still looking for meaningful employment.
â€śThey can learn how to create a resume as well as learn new computer programs,â€ť Coughlin said.
The Department of Elder Affairs Senior Community Service Employment Program is a federal program that will pay the salaries for seniors working at a host agency for up to four years.
â€śPart of what we do is to help employ out of work, low-income seniors and get them back into the workforce,â€ť Federico said. â€śThere are a lot of people with backgrounds rich with so much experience and we want to get them hired. Seniors are very reliable, very punctual and dedicated.â€ť
The outreach division of Elder Affairs is funded through Greater Springfield Senior Services.
â€śThey fix whatever is wrong from house repairs to verification on medications, reporting abuse or medical issues. They address all of those,â€ť Federico said.
Another social service provided is the SHINE division. As seniors retire, they begin the daunting process of signing up for Medicare. That is where SHINE steps in.
â€śSHINE is a health insurance assistance program for people on Medicare,â€ť said Alicia Germain, program coordinator. â€śItâ€™s primarily staffed with volunteers in the community. We cover all of Hampden County, and have two paid staff members who manage and administrate the program.â€ť
Overseen by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs in Boston, SHINE receives federal funding to help seniors navigate the health care system.
â€śWe have someone in every senior center in Hampden County, and they go through state certification and lots of training. They are very knowledgeable and qualified to discuss insurance options with anyone on Medicare,â€ť Germain said.
Federico said the center is so much more than a place for older people to spend their day.
â€śEverything we do here has many layers to it. They think they are signing up for dance, or a computer class, but they are getting so much more out of it,â€ť Federico said.
â€śItâ€™s a way to socialize with others and meet new people with similar or very different life experiences.â€ť Coughlin said.
While the center has been popular since it opened last year, it has the capacity for many more seniors.
â€śWe want them to come in and meet a new friend, to enjoy their time here and re-discover themselves,â€ť Federico said. â€śThey have worked hard all of their lives and itâ€™s their time now.â€ť
The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (the gym is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and is closed on weekends. PVTA transportation is available throughout the day. For more information on transportation, activities and events organized by the center call 413-787-6785, or stop by the center.