Push for more programs, membership underway at New London senior center
New London — The city is hoping to spark new life into the city’s senior citizens center with a push for new members and better diversification.
The effort is being led by Jeanne Milstein, the city’s one-woman human services department who took over direct oversight of the senior center from the recreation department after she was hired earlier this year.
One of the first steps was creation of a policies and procedures manual.
The document approved by the City Council on Monday outlines a host of senior services, creates a series of committees aimed at jump-starting participation and provides a code of ethics, a challenging-behavior policy and conflict resolution procedures.
Senior Center Coordinator Marina Vracevic helped to compile the new set of policies that incorporates ideas from seniors who frequent the center.
City Councilor Anthony Nolan, chairman of the Public Welfare Committee, said changes to address conflict were needed because clashes between individuals has led to squabbling and even complaints of racism.
Milstein said she took the concerns about race issues, or perceived race issues, seriously.
One of the first things she did was partner with Centro de la Comunidad in an effort to address issues raised about a lack of programs focused on the Latino population.
The two entities partnered for a “Summer Fiesta" at the senior Center on June 24. On Thursday, the senior center will welcome Bill Rivera, the former director of Centro de la Comunidad in a workshop on diversity, mutual respect and multiculturalism.
The changes have not gone over well with some, including Senior Affairs Commission Chairwoman Karen Paul, who is also an active volunteer at the senior center.
Paul said her major complaint is that she and other officers have not been privy to all of the proposed changes.
She also is upset about the cancelation of Bingo on Thursday for the diversification workshop.
She brushed off the claims of racism, however, and said the complaints have come from a small minority, “one or two people who play the race card every time they don’t get their way.”
Hugo Paredes begs to differ.
He said racism still exists among members of the senior center and he is pushing for better Latino representation in senior center staff.
He said that certain people, such as Paul, have had control of most aspects of the center.
With the city’s population nearing 40 percent Latino, Paredes said, “we feel we’re being left out.” He said most of his suggestions have fallen on deaf ears.
Nolan admits that in the past, “there has been a lack of opportunities for people of different ethnicities.”
But he said some of the ongoing arguments between individuals is one of the reasons he has considered proposing the dissolution of the Senior Affairs Commission. It’s a group that is supposed to be separate from the senior center but has in the past directed programming there.
Nolan plans to introduce an ethics training workshop before proposing the dissolution.
Milstein said there will remain a concerted effort to diversify along with a renewed outreach effort.
“We will go anywhere, anytime, to discuss ideas for the senior center,” she said.
Of the thousands of seniors in the city, she said, there are only 50 to 75 people who visit the senior center on any given day.
“We have a lot more to do but we’re very excited about the way things are going,” Milstein said.