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AGAWAM — When Cindy Sullivan applied for the position of executive director of the town’s Council on Aging, she knew it would fit the skills she’s developed while serving in a similar position in Southwick.

“It’s just a great opportunity,” she said only a few days after announcing she was leaving Southwick to take the position after being offered it by Mayor William Sapelli in mid-December. Sullivan’s first day in Agawam was slated for Jan. 2.

“We’re looking forward to having her interact with our seniors,” Sapelli said of Sullivan’s hiring to replace Michael Squindo, who left to take a similar position in Westfield.

He said the town needed someone with experience, a good resume, and the right personality needed to serve the town’s elderly population, and Sullivan fit the bill.

“[She] is compassionate when dealing with the senior population,” Sapelli said.

Sullivan began her career serving the elderly population in 2013 when she was named the director of Southwick’s Council on Aging.

It was a mid-career change for her and the only thing her new position had in common with the one she stepped away from was helping people.

“That’s what I wanted to continue … helping others,” she said.

She spent 17 years in Springfield working as a foster care case manager for a private company after earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Springfield College.

Once named to the position in Southwick, she quickly came to understand what a Senior Center is and what it isn’t, and plans to bring that understanding to Agawam. .

“People think it’s a place to go to die, but that’s not what it is,” she said with a seriousness in her voice.

She likened the senior population as being divided by high school grade levels, from freshman to senior, and potentially encompassing a 40-year-span of a person’s life. And that presents a unique set of challenges for any COA staff.

“Programming for that can be hard to do,” she said.

But then added: “Age is really only a number.”

One of the primary reasons she considered the Agawam position was the chance to serve a larger population of elderly residents, the physical size of the Senior Center, the larger COA staff, and that daily meals are prepared onsite.

And she said: “I understand it’s a pretty popular place.”

Sapelli recognized the popularity of the facility at 954 Main St., Agawam.

“We have a good number of seniors that are taking advantage of what we have presently, and we’d like to see that expanded. We think Cindy can do that,” he said.

He is also hoping she can expand on the initiatives started by Squindo, like providing transportation to seniors without access to vehicles, securing grants, and programming that attracts seniors to the center, who might otherwise stay at home.

Sullivan said another reason to move to Agawam was that it would be a better “fit” for her career, allowing her to focus on serving seniors. In Southwick, she also served as the director of parks and recreation.

“That just didn’t work for me,” she said. “I wanted to advocate more for our senior citizens than parks and recreation,” she said.

Sullivan took her desire to help others a step further in 2009 when she ran and was elected to a position on the Westfield School Committee. She served three four-year terms and stepped away in 2019 once her two children graduated.

Tyler Lederer of Reminder Publishing contributed to this story.

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