Senior Center serves broad Tisbury constituency


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 second 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.

The Island’s four senior centers provide craft classes and nutritious meals, of course. However, increasingly, each is becoming a unique community center serving the wide range of needs of seniors aged 55 to, on occasion, 100 as well as members of their families. The Tisbury Senior Center is no exception.

“One of the things we try to get across to people is that this is not a place for ‘old people,'” Tisbury Senior Center director Julia Stiles-Tucker said in a recent interview. “It is a community center where people can come and interact. Whether it is playing cards, play or poetry reading. Whether it is coming to see a movie, whatever.”

The Tisbury Senior Center opened in 1991 when, according to 1990 US Census and state data there were 731 seniors living in Tisbury. By the 2000 US Census there were 817 residents 60-plus years of age (an 11.8 percent increase) living there.

Although most of this senior center’s clients are 75 to 85, Ms. Stiles-Tucker said she is seeing a shift in those they serve. “In the past maybe 10 years we are increasingly working with caregivers. They are interested in what the center has to offer to help them care for their parents, husband, wife. Particularly we see caregivers who are children taking care of a parent — the sandwich generation — and we are providing a lot of referrals to services for them as well.”

The center provides respite services for caregivers who may need a break from their responsibilities for a senior parent or spouse. The Supportive Day Program, operated by the MV Center for Living, is now available in Tisbury twice a week; it allows working adult children to drop off a parent for activities in a safe setting during the working day.

“We didn’t do that 20 or 30 years ago and we are seeing the need for more of these services now,” Ms. Stiles-Tucker said.

Center history

An Island native and licensed social worker, Ms. Stiles-Tucker has worked as the center director for 31 years. “We were trying to get land and funding since the mid-’80s,” she said. In 1990 the center secured a state community development block grant of $300,000 and the town of Tisbury matched that grant with another $300,000 to build. The town also donated the land.

“Before 1991 we had a little office in the old annex building that they just tore down. We had a small office there but we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t have programs or anything there so we looked for funding.”

“It was a change, it was great. This was a real milestone for us,” Ms. Stiles-Tucker said.

Play Reading Club

Every Wednesday morning since 1997 a group of retirees gathers for meetings of the Peter H. Luce Play Readers Society. Named to honor one of its early leaders, the group is far more than play readers. They are, in fact, play performers although seated around a horseshoe-shaped table.

On one recent Wednesday, 13 actors and readers gathered to perform Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata.”

Eight performers divvied up the 30 roles, including the chorus: Claudia Rogers and Jay Sigler of Edgartown, Elaine Bart, Anne Good, and Polly Brown of Vineyard Haven, Ellie Beth ande Sofia Anthony of Oak Bluffs, and Connie McCreery of Chilmark.

The audience of five, including Myra and Leslie J. Stark, Johanna Kobran, Barbara Howell, and Judy Miller, all of Vineyard Haven, was riveted. Other group regulars include Katharine Colon, Nora Nevin, Elaine Eugster, Rose Terney, and Lois Remmer.

After the performance the group discussed how this ancient tale of the ongoing wars between Athens and Sparta related to the motivations behind 21st century warfare and the international role of women in peacekeeping efforts.

Eleven of the members on hand are in their 60s and 70, one in her 80s, and Barbara Howell is 90 years old. “I have been asked if it is fun doing this with ‘all those old people.'” Ms. Beth said. “And I respond, there is an incredible wealth of knowledge of the theater and literature in this group and that transcends age.”

Activities director Sandy Whitworth launched the group to read classic 1930s and 1940s radio plays. A couple of years later she turned the Society over to member leadership.

Many of the members are former educators and many had high school and college theater experience. Ms. McCreery said the key to each performer’s success is “one-third head, one-third heart, and one-third ham.”

Ms. Rogers said “I have loved the experience. There is nothing more wonderful than to infuse yourself into the parts.”

The group is always open to recruiting new members. In the summer youngsters join in including grandchildren who are aspiring actors. Ms. Anthony said, “Most of us are out in the community doing lots of volunteer activities for others. This is just for ourselves, this is just for me.”

And Ms. Howell said, “This is the most stimulating thing on the Island.”

Staffing and finances

In FY 2011 the total operating budget is $150,000 allocated by the town of Tisbury. The salary and personnel costs for Ms. Stiles-Tucker and Mrs. Whitworth, both full-time, and two part-time employees are not included in the Center budget because personnel are town employees, according to Ms. Stiles-Tucker.

Annual operating expenses have remained the same for the last few years, Ms. Stiles-Tucker said; however, there are annual salary increases determined by the town’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union contract .

In FY 2010 the center also received a $5,719 grant from the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs to underwrite wellness-fitness programs, purchase furniture, train, attend conferences, and give recognition to volunteers. State officials told The Times the grant amount will remain the same in FY 2011 although the disbursements have not been made official yet.

The Friends of the Tisbury COA raises funds separately to buy items for the Center, including a commercial refrigerator.

“We have volunteers that we recruit. They answer the phones in the morning, they deliver holiday meals. We have one who picks up donated bread from Stop ‘n Shop. If we do a special event they help with the kitchen,” Ms. Stiles-Tucker said. “Once in a while we have volunteers come in and do crafts classes. Even board members have volunteered. That’s very important. They save the town a lot of money.”

In a given week, the volunteers (the majority are seniors themselves ) provide 20 to 30 hours of needed volunteer time.

The future

“Funding sources are dwindling and I am afraid that a lot of the services that we really need for seniors are going to be cut completely or reduced, Ms. Stiles-Tucker said. “Keeping seniors in their homes — those services are going to be dwindling more than they are now.

“The state funding is going to be drastically reduced. Even from the town — our budget is going to be tweaked and dwindling as well. They are talking about 2012 particularly. They do not know how much of a cut we are going to have to take but they are looking at that being a possibility. They just want us to be prepared for that in the future,” Ms. Stiles-Tucker said.

The Tisbury COA senior center is open Monday through Friday. For more information, including a schedule of monthly activities, call 508-696-4205.