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Grace Barone, executive director of the East of the River Chamber of Commerce, was one of the celebrity guests who read trivia questions at the Pleasant View Senior Center Master Plan Kickoff.
Reminder Publishing photo by Sarah Heinonen

EAST LONGMEADOW — Members of the community were invited to participate in a gameshow-style event on April 24 to debut the Pleasant View Senior Center’s plans for the next three years of operation.

East Longmeadow Council on Aging Director Erin Koebler announced that East Longmeadow has been designated an age friendly community by AARP, a national advocacy organization for older people. The town is the 868th community to be recognized as such. She told the crowd that the center’s mission is to support and promote independence and wellness among the older population, which accounts for 30% of the town.

Roughly 1,300 new members began using the Senior Center in 2022 and 2023. With the growth and a widening of the programming members were asking for, it was decided that a three-year rolling strategic plan was needed to manage the center moving forward. Koebler explained that the ongoing nature of the plan would allow the Strategic Plan Advisory Team to pivot and adjust as they go.

The process of creating the center’s Master Plan began about a year ago. A consulting firm, Key Solutions, led residents through exercises to identify the center’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and then analyzed them to help the Strategic Planning Team identify goals. Seven goals were selected for the first year of the plan — financial sustainability, communication with wider community, employee growth and retention, optimized use of facilities and grounds and engaging over-60 population through programming, collaboration and civic engagement, and safe, affordable transportation that meets community’s needs.

As each goal was announced, the audience was asked trivia questions. People who responded correctly received coupons for sweet treats.

Several local celebrity guests were in attendance, including East of the River Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Grace Barone and Chase Bank Vice President and East Longmeadow Branch Manager Mathew Bridges. Robin Frechette, legislative aide for state Rep. Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow), asked about the age and size of the Tri-Town Trolley fleet, which has four vehicles, the oldest of which is from 2011. Koebler said $14,000 was spent on fleet maintenance in 2023. She added that the Tri-Town Trolley was the most common way residents travel when they are no longer able to drive.

Frechette took the opportunity to announce that a new van, for which Ashe had helped secure funding, was to be delivered to the center within the following 24 hours.

The group was asked what could be done about the Senior Center’s financial constraints. The Council on Aging’s annual budget accounts for less than 1% of the town’s total operating budget, according to Koebler. People suggested seeking more grant funding and hosting sales. The plan also calls for creating a functioning Friends of the Pleasant View Senior Center group to raise money, increasing the essential services included in the town budget by 5% and advocating at the state level.

When discussing communication, social media, the town website and word of mouth were cited as ways to find information about the center. Koebler shared that the newsletter had cost $750 per month to print and distribute, but it is now sent out electronically, with hard copies available at the center. This saves $500 each month. Other communication opportunities identified in the plan include creating a marketing plan and assessing outreach methods. The goal is to increase engagement by 10% each year.

The center has had 100% staff retention for 18 months and has a goal to continue that trend through balancing workloads, administering yearly satisfaction surveys, and exploring internships with high school and college students.

Koebler talked about the use of the Pleasant View Senior Center building. “Sometimes, we’re busting at the seams here,” she said, noting that the center serves more than 500 people. The center is planning to include a 10-minute transition period between programs to turnover rooms. They will also explore a “center without walls” format to offer virtual activities to people in their homes or schedule programs off-site.

Audience members had plenty of ideas for [programs they would like to see the center offer. Among them was a computer room, karaoke, roller skating, racquetball, board game groups and a memory cafe — the last of which will begin running again in May, Koebler noted. She said opportunities to socialize were one of the greatest needs identified during the analysis of strengths and weaknesses. The plan calls for evaluating the existing schedule of programs, reviewing staff roles, networking with senior centers around the state to look for opportunities to improve programs and find volunteer opportunities. The Council on Aging had 93 volunteers in 2023.

Collaboration with the town will also increase under the plan. The Senior Center will hire a registered nurse to share with the town’s Health Department, implement the results of the age- and dementia-friendly studies and apply to the Community Preservation Commission to create a home modification fund to help older people age in place.

Koebler said the Strategic Plan Advisory Team will keep the “vibrant and nimble” plan on track and work to help the center fulfill its mission to help the town’s older residents.

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