The Jenks Senior Center
By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Winchester – For nearly 50 years, the Jenks Senior Center has served as a destination for Winchester’s senior population. Recently, the building, which was named for town residents and philanthropists Evelyn and James Jenks, underwent a major $2.5 million renovation which will allow it to be truly accessible to all residents.
The Jenks Senior Center is one of the few privately owned, not-for-profit senior centers in the state. Located in the busy downtown area, next to the Town Hall, the center is owned by the Winchester Seniors Association Trust and run by the Winchester Seniors Association (WSA) volunteers. The WSA is a private not-for-profit organization which sponsors a wide range of educational, social and recreational activities. Over 200 volunteers help with everything including educational programs.
The center also is home to the town’s Council on Aging (COA), which is comprised of 11 members appointed by the board of selectmen.
Its mission, according to COA Administrator Phillip Beltz, is to meet the needs of the town’s elders through services, education and advocacy.
In addition to Beltz, the COA’s staff includes a licensed social worker, a registered nurse, a financial counselor, and a consulting attorney. SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone) counselors and tax experts also hold hours at the center to assist seniors.
Beltz himself is a new addition to the COA, starting as administrator in October. Previously he worked as a development director and special projects coordinator in New York. He has a master of social work degree in health policy, administration and supervision from the University of Pennsylvania.
“I felt that this was a good fit for me here,” he said. “And I am grateful for the opportunity.”
The renovations at the center included the installation of a new elevator, allowing seniors to finally access all three floors, a refurbished kitchen and dining area, and a new floor in one of the main gathering spaces, the Pond Room. The front lobby also underwent a facelift, making it a warm and inviting space for residents to relax and read or visit with friends.
There is little chance that one could become bored with the numerous offerings the center hosts each week. Nearly every week day there are events including exercise classes, dance classes, yoga and meditation, conversation groups including Italian and French, chorus, seminars and more. Students from nearby Winchester High School stop in to assist seniors with such things as computer instruction, smartphones and other devices.
Special events have included guest speaker Michael Dukakis, the former governor of Massachusetts, and a holiday performance by the Tufts Opera Ensemble.
In December, the COA sponsored a “Memory Café,” designed to help seniors with memory impairment as well as offer support to their caretakers. This initiative allows the senior to feel comfortable in a warm and non-stressful social setting while also allowing the caretaker to meet with others who are in the same situation.
Another successful program the center hosted recently offered seniors the chance to sign up for discount passes for regional buses and MBTA services. The event, run with the support of Representative Michael Day, D-31st Middlesex, drew 125 seniors, Beltz said.
The WSA is hoping to make more events more age-inclusionary by keeping the center open on occasion at nighttime and featuring events such as “Family Game Nights,” he noted.
Seniors in Winchester can sign up for Meals on Wheels to receive home-delivered meals. But the COA, along with Minuteman Senior Services, also offers another option, Eating Together. This program offers seniors the chance to enjoy a hot, nutritious meal at the Jenks Center in the company of other seniors, while also helping to combat isolationism.
“It’s an exciting time for the Jenks,” Beltz said. “We have a lot planned for the New Year and now that the renovation is complete, we can offer so many more things.”
“It’s all about serving the senior population in the best possible way,” he said.