~ Submitted by Alison Cservenschi, Director, Bedford Council on Aging
Bingo and blue rinses, pot lucks, and parties. That was the idea of COAs many eons ago when groups of ‘old timers’ with plenty of time on their hands would gather together and sit around for hours. Now there is not much wrong with any of that; however, this type of imaging can instill fear and dread for someone turning 65 and thinking about their future as a retired person. There are still some people in their 80s who will never step foot inside the COA because it is ‘for old people’. But we, at the Bedford COA, know that the senior of 20 years ago is not the senior of today and an older person’s needs in the future will be different as they age through retirement.
First off, the assumption that older people will all come to the COA in the big white bus and stay for the entire day is outdated. You may have trouble parking at any one time in the back lot of Town Center since so many of our seniors drive. Everyone in attendance comes and goes as they please, chooses what to attend and when. Independence is key for our attendees and for those who need assistance, companions or family members are encouraged. Of the 50 or so weekly programs offered by the COA over half are run by our volunteers. Covid did shrink our volunteer pool considerably; however, those who have returned, or started as new volunteers with us, enjoy staying involved and giving back to the community. We enjoy working with our volunteers as much as they enjoy working with us and we have some great complimentary programs and services to show for it. We are always open to suggestions for new programs, volunteer-run or otherwise. Our organization is built from the interests and needs of the community and it seems to be working.
Retired seniors at the COA are the busiest people I have ever seen. Many times, I have seen someone checking their calendar book to see if they can fit in attending something of interest. With aging comes one-third of an individual’s time and finances going to medical care, even with good health. However, you do have to find something else to do in between all those appointments. The thing about retirement now is that it can be very long and people are living longer. Perhaps 20 to 30 years of days need to be planned following retirement with meaningful and interesting activities that keep the brain stimulated. Travel is often the first plan after a lifetime of work, but you do have to come back home sometime. This is where the COA can help.
Some retired people do go back to work, perhaps part-time, for financial reasons or to stay involved and vital. Some choose to volunteer and stay connected by helping other people. Others are full-time caregivers for a spouse or adult child while aging themselves. There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ senior anymore. We consider all stages of life after retirement when planning our programs, arranging services, and providing resources.
Each year we assess our offerings to make sure they are hitting the mark. Covid has taught us that ‘business as usual’ just is not the way anymore. We need to keep moving forward, reinventing ourselves, and working to attract and support those who need us the most. Online Zoom programming, which became our major source of the connection while the building was closed during Covid, has remained. Half of our programs continue to be offered virtually or in a hybrid model. It is vital for us to continue to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of our virtual programs as attendance has continued or grown. Both residents and instructors who were out of town, or even out of the country, have still been able to log in and continue their routine with us. It has been amazing over the last few years to have additional programs offered in different ways that reach people in their homes and see residents return in person.
To keep up with the needs of our aging community, as staff, we have to educate ourselves to keep up with the latest trends on the local and national levels. We must also listen to our residents’ interests and needs and research new programs and services to complement our extensive offerings. As part of the COA network, there is a rich resource of sister COAs in other towns where ideas and best practices are shared regularly. You may know that this year we rebranded the COA with a brand-new logo, and tagline, and produced new resource materials, with the help of two social service interns and COA staff. Since Covid the Massachusetts Council on Aging (MCOA) observed how all COAs weathered the storm, reinventing ourselves and connecting with residents in new ways. All COAs are a vital part of the health and well-being of the community and through MCOA’s support we were awarded a $7800 grant to improve our outreach and image through the rebranding process. Pick up our new brochure at the COA or come and see what we have to offer. You might be surprised to see the many ways we can help support you, or your loved one, through the retirement years.
Check out our latest COA Newsletter online to see what is going on this month right in your neighborhood. We welcome you to join us now, or in the future!
Contact us at 781-275-6825 or online at [email protected]