Oak Bluffs Council on Aging is a busy place


Martha’s Vineyard’s four Councils 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 one of 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 Oak Bluffs senior center is no exception.

Each of the Island’s four Councils on Aging (COA) offer many of the same programs and activities in their senior centers like bridge, bingo, an exercise class or two, crafts classes, and a lunch program. And each offers something you can not find anywhere else. In Oak Bluffs, the Council on Aging created and offers the Island’s only at-home counseling service for seniors.

OB director Roger Wey began the counseling program five years ago after he became director. In the beginning seniors came to the center to receive counseling services. When it became obvious that some seniors needing counseling services could not get into the center, the program was expanded to an at-home counseling program.

The Oak Bluffs senior center then formed a partnership with Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS). The senior center makes referrals for counseling services to MVCS. Some clients require a visit or two, and others require a longer term relationship.

“Originally we thought that clients would come in and out of the service quickly but that is not what happened,” MVCS program supervisor Joy Ganapol said in an earlier interview.

“The relationship has gone extremely well. We have succeeded in a way that could not have happened before with both in-home and in-center counseling services.”

When the town of Oak Bluffs cut his budget in 2010, Mr. Wey was forced to cut the counseling program budget in half. He expected the program would run out of funds in January.

Fortunately, before that occurred, Mr. Wey said, the Island’s four councils on aging, in partnership with MVCS, applied for and received a priority grant through the Martha’s Vineyard Community Health initiative in December 2010.

The five-year grant for $51,670 annually funds a Counseling Outreach and Referral for the Elderly (CORE) program that started up in January 2011. Seniors in all Island towns in need of services, including at-home counseling, may now receive referrals to the Island Counseling Center at MVCS through requests to the councils on aging outreach workers.

“All four councils on aging recognized that the behavioral health needs of a rapidly growing senior population are not being met and applied for the grant,” Mr. Wey said. “So many seniors are struggling with different issues, whether it’s loneliness, substance abuse, financial problems, or just isolation. This program has helped so many people so far, and now it’s in a broader stage and helping many more.”

Staff & Finances

The town annual budget for the senior center in FY 2011 is $199,160, which includes personnel (minus benefits) and operating costs, according to town administrator Michael Dutton.

In addition, the COA received $4,711 in FY 2010 from the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs and is expected to receive the same amount in FY 2011, according to state officials.

Additional benefits come from the federal programs provided under contracts to vendors administered by the Elder Service of Cape Cod and the Islands, Inc. as well as small grants from nonprofits, donations from its nonprofit Friends organization, and fundraising events held during the year.

The center has three fulltime staff members — director, assistant director, and outreach worker. “No paid part-time people. Everyone is a volunteer here. We do not have the money to pay anybody,” Mr. Wey said.

Mr. Wey who said, “I always had a warm space in my heart for seniors,” is a former Oak Bluffs selectman and county commissioner who still serves on the retirement board. “I am a former builder who knows what he can do. I know what I can do and I know what I have done as a team. I am not the only one. We do it as team work. Everything that is done here between the town, the center, and everybody — it’s a team.”

One of Mr. Wey’s first steps as director was to add an addition to the existing senior center building that has doubled the size of the building.

“When I became director I went before the town meeting to get the money for the addition. I was still a selectman at the time so I had a little clout. The addition cost $150,000. We had town people donate time, the architect donated the time, we had the engineer donate the time — it was a real community thing,” he said.

Services and Activities

The Center’s outreach worker Susan Von Steiger makes home calls, hospital visits, and delivers surplus food. Unique to the Oak Bluffs senior center, a representative from the Social Security Administration visits the center once a month (on the fourth Monday).

The Center also administers the state South Shore Fuel Assistance Program that provides fuel assistance for people 60 and under.

There are wood-carving and chair-caning classes, classical movies in the afternoon, a variety of exercise classes, ladies’ bridge lessons as well as men’s cards, cribbage and scrabble gatherings. And each Tuesday and Thursday seniors are offered a nutritious lunch.

The Center also has wheelchairs and walkers that seniors may borrow when needed.

The Challenges

Currently the Center is challenged by the need to provide more services to a growing number of seniors with limited funding. “I see more and more counseling needs for seniors. I think we have a good growth in attendance but the need is growing because there are more and more seniors. As we look towards the future and the growth of the senior population, my biggest concern is to be able to provide the services,” Mr. Wey said.

“And, I worry about my volunteers. I must be sure that we have the volunteers — people we don’t have to pay -— or we couldn’t have the programs. That is one of my biggest fears.”

Mr. Wey said that he can see that it will not be long before there will be the need for a new, larger center.

“When I first came in here on a Monday they had social security counselors here. At the same time they had an exercise class going on. There were people sitting around waiting to speak to the social security counselor. In order to get to the coffee pot you had to walk over the people who were doing exercise on the floor.

“So this addition has really helped, but it is only a stop gap. In the future, when things get better and the population expands to the point where we are suffocating here, I would like to see a new senior center. When it is affordable. We are just fortunate that the town has a senior center. A lot of towns in Massachusetts do not have a senior center,” Mr. Wey said.

For a detailed schedule of activities and services call the senior center (508) 693-4509.