Councils on Aging: Loving the work

Directors assist Island elders with resources — and fun.


Speaking with the Island directors of the Councils on Aging (COA) was more than inspiring. Each one bursts with enthusiasm for their job, and their dedication to the Island community.

My first conversation was with Catie Blake at the Tisbury COA, who has recently stepped into the position. Her path was an interesting one. When working at the Tisbury board of health, Blake initiated a falls prevention class at the council, calling upon her background in fitness and as a personal trainer. “I just loved coming here, and everything about it,’ Blake says. “I would get so excited every time I would come to teach. So I applied when Joyce [Stiles-Tucker] decided to retire.”

In addition to helping people connect to services for things such as fuel assistance, transportation, counseling, and home modification, Blake is busy learning about different programs and agencies throughout the Vineyard geared to serving the older adult community. “All across the Island, it’s a very collaborative effort,” she says.

Rose Cogliano at the Oak Bluffs COA started out as assistant interim director in July 2004. That council, too, offers a plethora of opportunities and services. There are those that promote wellness, such as exercise programs, and many that offer camaraderie, including bowling and bingo, which has been running for 31 years. Two that particularly caught my fancy are “Pet Pedicure,” where a veterinary assistant comes in to clip the nails of people’s dogs, cats, rabbits, and birds, and “Crocheting with a Cop.” In November, they initiated “Stars on Martha’s Vineyard” to honor unsung heroes in the community who do outstanding work, starting with Donna Pachico. “She does so many wonderful things for the community that people don’t know about. She helps people with food, making donations, and performs all kinds of good deeds of that nature, and it’s not public,” says Cogliano.

Cogliano also explains that they offer assistance in helping Vineyarders attain not just fuel assistance but insurance, Social Security, SNAP, VTA bus passes, and durable medical equipment. She says, “We want to assist people in being able to age in place, and also to provide a happy environment for people to feel welcome to come in if they just want a cup of coffee or tea … or if they want nothing more than to sit down and read the newspaper and socialize.”

Joyce Albertine, who was hired in 1986 at the Up-Island Council on Aging, credits her team with being able to accomplish all that they do. And they — like the other COAs — accomplish a lot. Every day is different for them, she relates. Like the other Councils on Aging, there is a large range of programs addressing health, including a Parkinson’s support group; fitness with yoga classes; recreation; continuing education; and social services. Two autumn offerings included a cider stroll at Polly Hill and local author Holly Nadler presenting “Stories from America’s Most Haunted Island.” Every Thursday at 2 pm in January, there will be a viewing of the documentary, and discussion after each of the four sections, of “The Blue Zones,” which looks at the seven places around the world where people have longevity and good health.

But, as Albertine says, “You also never know who will be coming through the door or on the phone.” Right now, it’s particularly busy, since Albertine and another staff member are healthcare specialists — who, in addition to their regular duties, are helping a couple of hundred people with their Medicare plans.

A little over three years ago, Lyndsay Famariss at the Edgartown Council on Aging, also known as the Anchors, came to the position through her work with older adults at Community Services. “It became available, and I had worked with the Council on Aging under a temporary grant-funded position in 2016, so I knew that I loved the atmosphere and the work that was happening here. It seemed like a good fit,” she explains

“One of the things I love about the job is that every day is different,” Famariss continues. “I have a lot of contact with people who call or stop by. I might help a family who is looking for assistance for a relative who needs more help in the home, or the family needs some support for issues they are facing with a loved one.” She also joins in helping to serve lunches and spending time with folks coming in for programming. “I also do a lot of work with other organizations in the community, to help on a macro level to improve the services and accessibility for all older adults on the Island,” Famariss says.

She echoes the sentiment that all the directors emphasized. “First and foremost, I want people to know that we have a lot of fun to be had. We offer practical things like van rides, medical equipment to borrow, and case management, but we enjoy welcoming new people, laughing, and having a good time. We want people to not just think of us in terms of crisis, but for socialization and fun and the really good food that we offer.”

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