This is a guest blog post.
I participate in several exercise classes at the Newton Senior Center. During the previous municipal election season I was present when candidates listened to seniors asking for a larger and upgraded senior center. Post-election, the Mayor’s office decided to push for a multigenerational facility called NewCAL – Newton Center for Active Living, instead of a new or expanded senior center. This switch has not been welcomed by folks who frequent the Senior Center.
The proposed name marginalizes seniors who are disabled or limited in their mobility. The rest of the world is built for young, healthy people. It seems reasonable to have one space dedicated to the needs of seniors of all sorts of physical and mental functioning. Two of my favorite people at the Center are a long married couple — he is vision impaired and she is mobility impaired. At the Center he pushes her wheelchair while she navigates. At the Senior Center they can move around freely without worrying about kids running around or younger adults who may become impatient with their relaxed pace in the corridors.
The Senior Center is the most diverse space I’ve seen in Newton. The age range is mid fifties to 100 (thus already multigenerational!); physical abilities range from people who play tennis to people in wheelchairs; and the ethnic mix is wonderful: South Asians, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Jews and more. A multi-generational space may not be comfortable for some seniors and may (inadvertently) chip away at the current rich diversity. I see a level of comfort and humor and a culture of mutual encouragement that could be lost in an intergenerational community center.
Finally, there already are numerous places in Newton where people of all age groups can gather: The JCC, the YMCA, Hyde Community Center and Newton North (which was promoted as a space that the whole community can use when residents voiced concern about the high price of the new building), numerous parks and playgrounds, etc.
Having shared these observations, I want to make it clear that the current Senior Center is inadequate. It is too small; there is not enough parking; and it is not easily navigated by people in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. I believe that Newton either should renovate and expand the current building or convert a school that is no longer used into a Senior Center. Unlike the senior centers in many surrounding communities, the Newton Senior Center does not have a gym and does not have the facilities to adequately prepare and serve lunch to the seniors who depend on the Center for their main meal of the day. Moreover, the current budget is not adequate for keeping the Center open beyond early afternoon hours. Thus, many seniors who work part-time can’t utilize the Center as they might like.
True respect for seniors must include listening and acting upon our preferences and allotting sufficient funds to develop a dedicated space in which seniors can thrive.
Susan Sered is a Newton Centre resident, a professor of sociology at Suffolk University, and a faithful participant in the Zumba Gold class at the Newton Senior Center.