'These seniors have different interests' - Milford Senior Center marks 50 years

MILFORD — The COVID-19 pandemic played havoc with the Senior Center programs, closing the building, and forcing the cancellation of multiple events, including a group trip to Egypt and a planned 50th Anniversary gala and in-house party that had been in planning for a year.

But the staff adapted and the center evolved, just like it has been for the past half-century.

“We had to pivot away and focus immediately on the most emergent needs of the senior population that we serve here,” said Leonora Rodriguez, the center’s executive director.

The center shifted gears to focus on food based programs and wellness calls.

“We wanted to keep in touch with our senior membership and make sure they had the essentials that they needed,” she said.

Now, more than seven months later, the center is open, but on a limited basis with classes in video bowling, billiards, art and ceramics to go. Even the anniversary party went virtual, with the staff creating a special edition of the newsletter featuring photos from the center’s history.

‘Aging differently’

The Milford Senior Center, at Jepson Drive, has over 2,000 members. Members must be Milford residents age 55 and over. Annual membership is $15. Most activities are free.

In reflecting on the center’s 50th anniversary year, Rodriguez said seniors are aging differently than they were even 25 years ago.

When the center first opened in 1970, it was in a one-room space at Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church on South Broad Street. The center moved into its current location in 1978.

“They gathered for socialization, had a cup of coffee, and chit chatted for a little while,” Rodriguez said.

As membership grew, their needs grew and they began focusing on nutrition and physical fitness, according to Rodriguez.

“I feel that the way the center has evolved has been based on the needs and demands of the seniors who are participating in it,” she said. “Every generation of seniors that has come through our doors helped dictate the direction. We focus on how we can meet the demands of all.”

Prior to the pandemic, while there were many older seniors who regularly came to the center, there was a growing younger group of seniors — age 70 and under — with an interest in technology, according to Rodriguez. The center previously had a computer lab; but over the years, people gravitated to their phones, she said.

“We had a Tech Time program that was gaining quite a bit of popularity,” she said. “They want to be able to utilize their smart phone and send text messages so they can interact with their family members.”

Being comfortable with technology can really help seniors communicate with their families during the pandemic, according to Rodriguez.

Another change is that in 2020 the center has started to see more members of Generation X, those who were teens in the 1980s who are now turning 55.

“These seniors have different interests than the older generation. They want to travel and see the world,” she said.

Additionally, the center has seen many multi-generation families come through its doors.

“We have some families that adult child and parent both frequent the activities,” Rodriguez said. “They come together, with each having their own friends.”

Others have joined the center after recalling memories of how much their parents enjoyed it in years past.

Rodriguez said as a society, “we’ve changed a bit,” in regard to how one considers age.

“We don’t stop when we are no longer working. We don’t stop when we are no longer in our uniforms,” she said. “Being 65 50 years ago was calling a person very old, but you would never call a 65-year-old old now.

In today’s society, “We are not telling people to just sit in a rocking chair and rock away,” she said.

Seniors bring with them “this richness of their life experiences and skills they’ve learned,” she added. “Time comes with sophistication and understanding how to interact with their peers.”

Over the next 50 years, Rodriguez said the goal of the center is to continue with the theme of healthy aging and what it means for seniors.

“Healthy aging involves being able to come here and learn how to take care of their physical bodies, being able to socialize and make friendships.”