Janice Jackson will retire soon as executive director of the Milford Senior Center, which she helped grow over the past 48 years from a small agency occupying three rooms in a church basement to a 33,000-square-foot center offering a host of programs and services.
Jackson officially retires at the end of June, but she will remain on the job until a new director is found.
The city’s Council on Aging has been interviewing candidates and has not chosen a new director yet. According to a posting on the city’s website, the deadline for applications is June 25.
About 60 applications have come in so far, and seven candidates were interviewed. A subcommittee is expected to continue interviewing candidates before forwarding a recommendation to the full council.
The salary for the job is approximately $65,000.
Jackson has worked for the Milford Senior Center 48 years, from when it was located in the basement of Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church. Today she and other center officials say it is among the top senior centers in the state and they say it was listed as number four in the country in 2009 by U.S. News and World Reports.
“From 1970 to 1978 we were called the Senior Center Drop-in Center,” Jackson said. “I was one of five employees occupying one small room, a sitting area, and a room with a pool table.”
Jackson was the administrative assistant then.
Attendance started to grow, and it became apparent that a senior center building was needed, she said. The executive director at the time, Kathi McDonnell-Bissell, worked with state and local officials to construct a senior center at 9 Jepson Drive, and it was completed in 1978. Since then two additions have been built.
Jackson grew with the senior center over 4.5 decades, eventually earning a degree in social work at Sacred Heart University while working full time. From administrative assistant, she became administrative coordinator, social services coordinator, interim director and then executive director after McDonnell-Bissell died in 2004.
Today there are about 3,000 members of the Milford Senior Center. For a $15 annual membership for Milford residents age 55 and older, the center offers a bevy of classes, from yoga to ceramics, daily lunch, transportation to and from the center for those who need it, the Ahrens Program, which helps care for older adults experiencing forms of dementia, plus Meals on Wheels.
There are 41 employees, more than 100 volunteers, and class instructors.
“That’s a large staff,” Jackson said, crediting the city for being very supportive of the center. Its roughly $1.4 million budget is funded mostly through a city grant, with additional funding from the United Way and a Community Development Block Grant.
With each new generation of senior citizens, the center has had to evolve in a way, Jackson said, pointing out that years ago seniors may have been looking for a community dance to fill their time, while today they may be looking for a Tai Chi class, which the center offers.
“Senior centers are always looking for ways to bring people in,” Jackson said.
Council on Aging member Richard Dowin credited Jackson and McDonnell-Bissell for creating a top-notch senior center.
“Janice followed in the footsteps of Kathi McDonnell-Bissell,” Dowin said. “Between the two of them they made the center what it is today. We’ll never be able to really replace Janice. She’s just done an awesome job and we just hope to continue that.”
Shirley Serrano, another council member, said choosing Jackson’s successor is not a quick process, and she’s grateful Jackson agreed to stay on until a new director is chosen.
“Janice has been like a fixture,” Serrano said. “She has worked her way up the ladder, and given her experience, she has knowledge of all the aspects of the senior center.”
Once retired, Jackson said she plans to tackle some home projects, catch up on some reading, and take road trips with her husband, John, on one of their Harley-Davidson trikes. And, as a member of the Milford Senior Center, she intends to take part in day trips.