Survey Seeks Input On Senior Center Name Change

By: Tim Wood

The Chatham Senior Center.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – Despite its many programs aimed at active and engaged seniors, there's still a perception that the senior center offers little beyond bingo and chair yoga.

The council on aging board hopes to change that stigma by rebranding the facility to more accurately reflect its wide roster of programs. The group is launching a survey Aug. 1 that will poll residents on five potential new names for the senior center. Surveys can be filled out online or via paper ballots available at the town offices, the annex, the Eldredge Public Library, the community center and the senior center.

Changing the name of the center has been on the COA's agenda for several years, said chair Patricia Burke. Efforts to secure approval for a new senior center – a process that's still underway – took precedence.

“I don't think people understand the services” offered through the council on aging, she said. They range from SHINE counseling (assistance with Medicare and health insurance) to public health and transportation services, as well as nutrition, education, recreation and wellness programs. There are also social programs; the senior center recently held its first in-person lunch for seniors celebrating a birthday in July, and it was packed, Burke said.

“There was one fellow there who was 101,” she noted. Right now the Stony Hill Road center is short-staffed and is gradually opening up after the pandemic, she added, although programming barely skipped a beat due to COVID, much of it migrating online. Even so, efforts are underway to widen programs, including renovating the Colin Campbell Computer Center into an internet lounge stocked with tablets and iPads, where seniors can come and learn how to use the devices.

Burke said about half the councils on aging on the Cape use the term senior center, while half have turned to other names, Burke said. Senior facilities in Barnstable and Wellfleet, for instance, are called adult community centers.

Names being considered for Chatham include Chatham Adult Resource Center, Chatham Anchors Center for Active Living, Chatham Center for Balanced Living, and Chatham Community Life Center. Survey respondents can also make their own suggestion, according to Burke.

The trend toward rebranding senior centers has been ongoing for a number of years and began as a way to attract younger, more active seniors. The Groton, Conn. senior center, for example, rebranded itself “Thrive 55+” in 2021 to emphasize its recreation focus, rather than programs and services that the public sees as benefiting only older people, according to an article on the National Council On Aging website. A 2018 Boston Globe article said the more than 200 senior centers across the state are adding intergenerational programs “to draw baby boomers who have little interest in playing cards or bingo for hours on end.”

Many seniors, especially younger ones, avoid the senior center because of those perceptions, said Burke. Many later discover the wide array of programs and services that can be of assistance to all seniors.

“You don't need it until you need it,” she said.

Chatham has one of the largest percentages of seniors in the state and the second oldest median age after Orleans. According to the 2020 federal census, more than 46 percent of the town's residents are aged 65 or over.

After two failed attempts to find a location to build a new senior center, the agency has been in the spotlight in recent years, and designs for a new facility have stressed the need for recreation spaces and programs that serve the wide range of seniors, from recent retirees to centenarians. A feasibility study is currently being conducted of two other possible senior center locations, the current Stony Hill Road site and shared use of the Main Street community center. Initial results of those studies are expected soon.

Burke said the COA board hopes to review the feedback from the survey and present a proposal for a new name to the select board in September. If that goes smoothly, the Stony Hill facility will be rechristened with a new sign in October.

“What we're looking for is what people think” about a new name, she said. “What they like best.”