Center for Living

The home page of The Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living (MVC4L) website features a quote from C.S. Lewis “Age is a reality but old is a state of mind.” A recent change in name for the nearly 40-year-old organization from Island Council on Aging reflects this positive attitude.

“We want to refocus our energy on living rather than aging,” says executive director Leslie Clapp. “There’s a lot of stigma attached to the words elders and seniors and aging. What we want to focus on is the living and we’re committed to providing services so people can live the best they can.”

Services provided by the MVC4L include the Supportive Day Program, the 55 Plus Times section of the Martha’s Vineyard Times, the Emergency Food Cupboards, the off-Island medical taxi program, the monthly Culinary Arts luncheon, and distribution of FEMA fuel assistance funds.

Despite many people’s misconception, the Center for Living is not affiliated with the town councils on aging, though they partner with them on many initiatives and hold the supportive day program at the Edgartown and Tisbury senior centers. The confusion was due, in part, to the former name of the organization and was another incentive for the name change. According to their website, “The Center for Living is eligible for grants and funding not available to town government bodies such as the Councils on Aging. This eligibility allows us to provide Island-wide services that complement programs offered through the towns and other agencies serving 55+ Islanders.”

Ms. Clapp explains that the agency was founded in 1974, around the same time as the individual councils on aging, “At some point all the town councils on aging realized that there needed to be a more regional organization. The Island Council on Aging was formed to get more regional services over here. There was more clout in joining forces.”

The Center has launched an awareness-raising initiative that includes informational talks open to the public and a series of cultural luncheons – each celebrating the contributions of a different ethnic group on the island. So far the luncheons, which include a three-course meal and a presentation for $25, have been a success. The Center has honored the Wampanoags, Portuguese, and African Americans on the Island and on April 9 the luncheon will feature a focus on the Island’s Jewish influence, with approproate speakers, music, and menu. The series will conclude in May with a presentation by West Tisbury’s author Cynthia Riggs on women of the whaling days.

The public outreach effort has paid off, according to Ms. Clapp, who noted that many of the luncheon attendees were previously unaware of the agency and the services it provides.

“We’ve had a little flurry of incoming people in the last few months.,” said Eileen Murphy, supervisor of the Supportive Day Program. “We’re almost full to capacity right now.”

The Supportive Day Program is the most ambitious and extensive program operated by the MVC4L. It is a social day program for seniors operated four days a week from 9 am to 3 pm. The focus is on providing a social setting and an active day for clients, as well as allowing caregivers some respite. “We often find that the family members themselves are in more distress than the person coming into the program,” Ms. Murphy said.

The program has been in existence for 26 years, and currently its 22 clients range in age from 50 to 97. Some attend for a full day, some come in at 11:30 am, in time for lunch, and stay for a half day.

“This program is for anybody who is at risk if left alone or suffering from isolation,” Ms. Clapp said. However, there are certain restrictions placed on staff involvement. “We’re not a medical program. We cannot administer medications. We know what meds they’re on and what their conditions are and we can cue them to take their medications. We’re not supposed to do any hands-on personal care.”

Prospective clients are given a home assessment to determine if they are eligible. Often, family members attend lunch at the center with a client candidate to see if the program is a good fit., “Some times people will come multiple times.” Ms. Murphy said. “We have an open-door policy, and we invite families to come in anytime.”

The activity-filled day starts with social hour with coffee or tea, word games and puzzles. After that the activities, which go on all day, are a mixed bag. Scrabble games, art projects, yoga, and chair exercises are just a sampling. Entertainment and educational programs are provided by a number of outside organizations and individuals. Felix Neck and Polly Hill Arboretum regularly offer talks and demonstrations. Visits from baby lambs are an Easter-time tradition. A number of musicians and musical groups regularly perform, and groups of school children and preschoolers stop by to read to clients or just enjoy snacks and a visit. A massage therapist and a manicurist provide regular services.

Ms. Clapp is proud of the fact that the ratio of client to staff is 4 to 1, though the state requirement is no more than 8 to 1. “We have a really dedicated staff,” she said. “Older people deserve to be paid attention to. They have a lot to say and certainly enjoy life as much as anyone. There’s always lots of laughter, lots of music, sometimes dancing. It’s just more fun than you can imagine.”

The Center is committed to finding a full-time, dedicated home. Right now, the Supportive Day Program has to switch back and forth from the Edgartown and Tisbury Senior Centers. We’ve been operating this program as gypsies out of two senior centers.” Ms. Clapp said. “We’re like nomads with our equipment and supplies constantly stuffed in our cars and back and forth, back and forth. It’s a strain on the whole system — on the senior centers that host us, on us, and on the clients.”

Ms. Murphy added that, although transportation is provided for the clients, the change can be confusing for those with cognitive impairments. A dedicated space, customized for the program, would be hugely beneficial to the clients, as well as easing the burden on the staff.

“We’ve got a capital campaign under way and we’re looking for a permanent home,” Ms. Murphy said.

For more information on the Center for Living, call 508-939-9440, or email LeslieC@mvcenter4living.org.