Island Councils on Aging provide a rich menu of services


Martha’s Vineyard’s four Council on Aging senior centers offer elderly Islanders, and the not-so-elderly, a rich variety of activities. On any given day there may be yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates classes and a bridge or mah jong game may be heating up. One of the travel clubs may be heading off on a day-trip to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform, visit the Museum of Fine Arts there, or enjoy a Cape Cod shopping excursion. Elsewhere there are play- and poetry-reading clubs meeting, craft classes, volunteer programs, discussion groups, and nutritious lunch programs.

This is the first in a series of articles that describe the varied activities and distinct characteristics of the Island’s four senior centers located in West Tisbury (also serving Chilmark and Aquinnah), Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury, and the regional services of the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, which among other services runs the Supportive Day Program.

On Martha’s Vineyard a patchwork quilt of taxpayer-supported programs and services under the umbrella of individual Councils on Aging serve the Island’s elderly. All are bound by the common mission and shared goal of helping seniors to remain healthy, active, and safely living in their homes as long as possible.

The Island’s population of residents 60 years of age and older is booming and is expected to continue to do so. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 16.6 percent of Island residents were 65 years or older. State officials predict that the 2010 U.S. census data may show an increase in the Island’s senior population by as much as 26 percent.

Service providers say they are trying to serve the constantly changing and expanding needs of three generations of seniors — the younger set 55 to 70 years of age, those 70 to 80, and those who have truly reached the status of elderly.

Increasingly, adult children who care for aging parents need help assisting a parent, or a respite from that job, even as state and federal funding sources are dwindling.

The majority of funding for the Island’s senior programs is received from taxpayers.

According to the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, 85 percent of the budgets of local COAs come from local funding sources including town stipends, grants, and donations.

The current Edgartown senior center budget of town funds is $303,292, Oak Bluffs receives a little more than $200,000 from its town budget, the Tisbury senior center portion of the town budget is $150,000 and the Up- Island Senior Center budget, which receives funding from the three up-Island towns is $250,000.

All served

Any resident of Martha’s Vineyard, 55 years of age or older, and family members of residents 55-plus, may use the services and enjoy the programs of any COA regardless of address. The COAs also try to offer as many non-duplicated services as possible island-wide, according to Jacque Cage, Island office director of Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands.

The Edgartown COA and The Anchors (it is not called a senior center) is located at 10 Daggett; the Oak Bluffs COA and senior center is at 21 Wamsutta Avenue; the Tisbury COA and senior center, is at 34 Pine Street; Vineyard Haven and the Up-Island COA and senior center is in Howes House in central West Tisbury.

In addition, The Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, formerly called the Island Council on Aging, receives funds from each of the Island towns, state government grants, and donations. The town assessments are based on senior population: Aquinnah $7,000, Chilmark $14,000, Edgartown $40,000, Oak Bluffs $50,000, Tisbury $42,000, and West Tisbury $25,000.

The Center for Living provides unique Island-wide services that include publishing the 55+Plus newsletter inserted into The Times each month, coordinating taxi service for seniors who need to get to and from mainland doctor appointments, organizes local food pantries and the regional high school culinary lunch program that about 30 seniors enjoy once a month.

The Center for Living Supportive Day Program is provided two days a week at The Anchors in Edgartown and two days at the Tisbury Senior Center in Vineyard Haven.


In 1956 the Massachusetts Legislature enacted legislation that permitted local municipalities to create Councils on Aging (COAs) to provide for the physical wellness and social service needs of people 60 years and older. Currently there are 349 COAs in Massachusetts and 292 senior centers.

The Executive Office of Elder Affairs oversees state programs and funding for elder services. The state also created 27 Aging Services Access Points (ASAPs) that are a collection of supportive services providers around the Commonwealth.

In 1965 the U.S. Congress passed the Older Americans Act which established a national system of federally funded community-based supportive and nutrition services known as Area Agencies on Aging (AAA).

The AAA contracts with private vendors for services, disburses funding, monitors programs for regulatory compliance and quality control, and coordinates operations and resources.

On Martha’s Vineyard, Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands, Inc., a nonprofit organization, is the state-designated ASAP agency and federally designated AAA agency.

The Executive Office of Elder Affairs allocates state funding to local communities based on the senior population of each town. Additionally local communities receive services paid for with state funds through contracts and grants distributed and managed by Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands, Inc.

The Executive Office of Elder Affairs direct allocation of funding to each town has changed little in the past five years. In fiscal year 2007 the budget was $7.5 million. In FY2011 that figure is $7.9 million, according to state officials.

In FY2010 the Executive Office of Elder Affairs allocated $35,305 to the Island. The FY2011 allocation is expected to remain the same.

The Edgartown COA received $4,375 for a fitness program, facility maintenance and renovation, and in-service training or education. The Oak Bluffs COA received $4,711 to provide for mileage reimbursements and transportation, facility maintenance, volunteer recognition, and in-service training or education.

The Tisbury COA received $5,719 for wellness/fitness programs, to purchase senior center furnishings, provide for postage, volunteer recognition, and in-service education.

The Up-Island COA received a total of $10,500 because each of the three up-Island towns received a $3,500 grant to defray heating and utility costs, print brochures, transportation and travel costs, and in-service education and training.

Ann L. Hartstein, secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, in a telephone interview with The Times said, “It is a rare community that provides the amount of services needed.” She cited transportation, socialization, and opportunities for volunteerism as three key needs.

Emmett Schmarsow, executive director of the Executive Office’s Councils on Aging program for Massachusetts said, “I guess they are all under-funded.”

Although the Executive Office of Elder Affairs provides “best practices” information to the local COAs it is a local decision about the what needs are to be met and how.

Mr. Schmarsow said, “On the Cape and Islands, what you are seeing now as services being provided is the future for the state. The Supportive Day Program on the Island will be something that more and more communities are looking to do in the future.”

Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands, Inc. receives and distributes state funds on the Island through contracts with private organizations that provide a variety of services including a Home Care Program that assesses client needs, formulates a care plan, and arranges for in-home support services as well as protective services investigations.

The Elder Services’ Home Care Program is the agency’ largest program with a $8 million annual budget. Under this program 136 unduplicated clients on the Island received services in FY2010 costing $600,000; 2,300 clients in total were served on the Cape and islands.

Elder Services of the Cape and Island also distributes federal funds on-Island as provided for under the Older Americans Act .

These services include: The senior dining centers and the meals on wheels program (operated out of the Island’s senior centers), a mature workers program that provides training and part-time employment for seniors 55 years or older who are income-eligible, a money management program for income-eligible seniors and the long-term care ombudsman program that sends advocates into facilities unannounced to insure quality care.

In FY2010, the Elder Services’ federally-funded senior center and home meals program provided 260,000 meals on the Cape and islands; 27,000 meals were served on the Vineyard.

The total Elder Services FY2010 budget (federal and state) for Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties was a little more than $15 million; 8 percent or $1.2 million was spent on the Island. Approximately 76 percent of the funds come from the state, 12 percent from the federal government and the remainder from client fees, as well as financial and in-kind donations made by the towns and counties, according to Elder Services community services director Pat Hart.

For information about senior centers programs and services contact Edgartown/The Anchors at 508-627-4368, Oak Bluffs 508-693-4509, Tisbury 508-696-4205, and Up-Island 508-693-2896.