Around the Island

Column: Discovering the Senior Center

We’ve all heard the clichés: “You’re only as old as you feel.” “Sixty is the new 40.” “Age is just a number.” 

All are true. But is there a time when someone acknowledges that they are a senior? Is it retirement? Is it the first chronic illness?  Is it the first Social Security check? Is it becoming a grandparent?

The baby boomer generation (born 1946-1964) has always thought of itself as young. Of course millennials roll their eyes and mutter, “O.K., Boomer,” when they hear this. But I say to millennials:  Like it or not, unlike your grandparents who fought in World War II and became grownups overnight, we boomers have always boasted about our youthfulness.

And even as we turned 65, 70, and even 75, we’ve been having a hard time giving up that self-image.

So, for many of us, the idea of joining a senior center really goes against the grain.

That brings us to the Shelter Island’s Senior Center, run by the indefatigable Laurie Fanelli with assistance from the talented Sara Mundy. According to its mission statement, Shelter Island Senior Services is to “support the healthy aging of adults 60 years and over in their own homes by providing opportunities for meaningful community involvement and increased support services.”

In doing this, the staff supported seniors who were struggling with the consequences of aging as well as those truly enjoying their advancing years.

Until last March, this often meant a place to meet, eat, and enjoy fun activities and trips. But since then, the staff scrambled to create online programs and find ways to keep in touch with the needs of the Island seniors and their care givers who, much to everyone’s detriment, became homebound.

The beautiful new bus that had been ordered before the pandemic arrived and sat idle.  Outreach became even more important. While the entire country experienced bouts of depression, the senior population in their isolation really suffered and the staff reached out to everyone in need.

Through all this, another group, while not suffering in the same way, still missed a lot of the fun. These are the healthy and self-sufficient folks over 60 who love the sense of community the Center brings.

This group participates in yoga, Zumba, arts and crafts, watercolors, knitting and crocheting, poker, mah jongg, and computer classes, which sounds like a community center and not a place for old people. That’s because it is a community for people on Shelter Island who happen to be over 60; a place to get together, meet new people, and find activities they enjoy. 

According to Laurie, “While the pandemic has been a crisis, every crisis is an opportunity for change. So many Islanders have joined online interest groups and connected to each other via Zoom. When our Center reopens, we’re excited to continue to thrive online and in- person.”

As the Island population is getting vaccinated and the country begins to open up, the Senior Center plans to open in April. We all hope that isolation will become a memory and we can get together again.

If you loved Jimi Hendrix, Motown, the Beatles, and remember young Bruce, you’re old enough to enjoy the Senior Center.  You may still feel young, but face it, you are a Senior. Call 631-749-1059 to join.

Nancy Green is a member of the Shelter Island Health and Wellness Alliance along with Lucille Buergers, Jim Colligan, Laurie Fanelli, Trish Gallagher, Ryan Sultan, MD, and Bonnie Stockwell.