New director says senior center is amazing
Leonora Rodriguez, new executive director of the Milford Senior Center, said she’s been walking around saying “amazing” since starting her job Aug. 19.
Rodriguez said the center’s staff of about 40 people is great, and the volunteers are numerous.
The Milford Senior Center, she said, “is like a well-oiled machine.”
Rodriquez was hired to take over for Janice Jackson, who recently retired as executive director after 48 years with the agency. Jackson remained on hand, however, through the end of this week to help transition Rodriguez into the job.
Rodriguez, who lives in West Haven, most recently worked as program director for Benchmark Senior Living in Meriden, and describes an education and jobs that paved a path to her new position at the Milford Senior Center.
She graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a degree in studio art and art education, and her first job out of college was for an agency that served people with varying degrees of blindness. From there she worked at the Jewish Home for the Aged in New Haven, which sparked her love of working with the elderly population.
“I discovered dementia and Alzheimer’s, and I really didn’t have an understanding of those at that time, and I wanted to learn all I could,” she said.
She used art to connect with people suffering from memory and cognitive impairment, for example, bringing in her sewing machine to work with a woman who had once been a seamstress.
“I learned I really enjoyed working with older adults and seniors,” she said.
Rodriguez worked in several other nursing homes in the state, and then entered the assisted living arena, taking a job at Mulberry Gardens in Southington.
She saw firsthand how the families of those with dementia and Alzheimer’s struggled to support their loved one, and she wanted to help.
Since earning her undergraduate degree, she’s completed master’s level work in therapeutic recreation and is working on her master’s degree in gerontology.
She loves the job at the Milford Senior Center and is looking forward to making her mark, for now by elevating some of the technology offerings, and broadening communication through social media.
Younger seniors — people can join the Milford Senior Center at age 55 — may be looking to Facebook for information, so Rodriguez, who said she is pretty tech savvy, wants to bring the center’s Facebook page up to date.
The center has a lot to offer, she said, from yoga to travel, and she said, “It’s a matter of getting the word out there.”
She said she loves the idea of lifelong learning, and wants to promote the center as a place to strengthen physical and mental fitness.
Maintaining connections is very important for people, and she said the center plays a key role there. “Here there is an opportunity to be part of something again, and this is so important,” she said. “We need others so that we are connected.”
The city’s Council on Aging interviewed about eight candidates for the job before hiring Rodriguez, said council member Richard Dowin.
“She has impressed me as a person up to the task,” Dowin said.
He likes the idea of introducing more technology, noting that Rodriguez mentioned installing a digital sign board with information at the entryway.
Lillian Holmes, chairman of the Council on Aging, introduced Rodriguez to a number of senior center members recently, telling them that Rodriguez has the heart for the job.
“She has the heart for and a love for the senior population,” Holmes said.
Local officials say Milford’s senior center is among the tops in the state and the country.
“Leonora is a welcome addition to the team here in Milford,” said Mayor Ben Blake. “I look forward to working with her as she continues to help the busiest and most popular senior center in the state continue to thrive.”