SPOTSWOOD – In celebration of 25 years of serving seniors in Spotswood, the Office on Aging held a special event to honor the milestone.
Donna Faulkenberry, director for the Office of Aging, said, “We celebrated the Spotswood Office on Aging’s 25th anniversary and it was everything we hoped for and more. Thank you to Mayor Jackie Palmer, Business Administrator Ryan Michelson, Councilwoman Marylin Israel, former driver Susan Bunk, the members of the Crescent Park staff – with a special shout out to Tami and Anne for helping us hide Elvis – and to the many seniors who joined us. We are extremely grateful to BCB Bank for sponsoring our entertainment, the incomparable Richie Santa as Elvis. What a great show. … To all the seniors who have made our house a home, we thank you. You are why we are here, and we are truly blessed.”
Three days before Christmas on Dec. 22, 1995, Spotswood officially opened the borough’s Office of Aging center. Prior to its permanent location, the Office on Aging offered services using local establishments such as the library, the church, the municipal building and even the firehouse.
However, during the mid-1990s, the borough’s senior population grew. With that growth came the need for a designated space for seniors to receive various forms of assistance and to socialize.
This dilemma prompted then-Director Janine Balazs to collaborate with borough officials to find a solution. Eventually, an agreement would be reached with the Reformed Church in which the basement of their recently constructed Crescent Park Senior Apartments would be converted into a senior center.
Now, in its 25th year, the center offers a multitude of recreational activities, educational programs, social services, parties and transportation assistance to medical appointments and essential shopping.
According to Faulkenberry, residents over 55 are eligible to become members. Signing up enables residents to receive updates about available services and important information related to the center.
“Our office offers residents 55 and over a place to go and connect with others at a time in their lives where these opportunities may start to diminish. The only requirement is that you fill out a membership form which gives you access to all of the services we offer. You will be put on an email distribution list which announces upcoming events, activities, and other senior-related information. We also have a website (www.spotswoodboro.com/office-on-aging) and a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/groups/spotswoodooa) to get information about our center,” Faulkenberry said.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic led to statewide closures of public facilities and the cancellation of social gatherings. As virtual interactions became the norm, the Office of Aging used technology to stay connected despite the physical distance.
“Socialization and human connection are at the heart of what we do, and the pandemic stopped us in our tracks. We worked from March until June of 2020 from our homes and during that time, tried to come up with different ways to connect with our members. We communicated via the telephone and internet. We posted and emailed informational updates, entertainment clips and yoga videos from our yoga instructor, Al Sykes,” Faulkenberry said.
Between April and June 2020, seniors in Spotswood were also visited by a convoy of friendly and familiar faces. Although socially distanced, the visits were intended to uplift morale by providing hope via human interaction.
“We also took caravan tours in April, May and June where we visited seniors at their homes, standing outside and catching up from the street. We knew how much they missed human contact and how important it was for us to see them as well. We even made a video for the graduating seniors of 2020 from these visits which can be seen: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rBySWzCDKY,” Faulkenberry said.
In July 2020, the center reopened, making it the only senior facility to open in Middlesex County from July to November. With several risks accounted for and various safety protocols in place, the Office on Aging felt ready to remedy the damaging effects of social isolation by reopening its doors.
“We came back to the office in June of 2020 and reopened the center with COVID modifications in July of 2020. We also started providing medical transportation again as well as food shopping. With full support from our administration, we were the only center in Middlesex County that opened its doors from July until November of 2020, something of which we are very proud. With all the proper protocols in place, we felt the risk of remaining closed and keeping our seniors socially isolated was even greater than the risk of potentially getting the virus,” Faulkenberry said.
Unfortunately, due to the resurgence of COVID cases, the center was closed in November 2020.
In March 2021 it reopened, and in May 2021, the center returned to “normal” as vaccinated members and visitors were able to return without restrictions.
“We had to close again in November due to spiking COVID numbers, but we reopened the center again in March of 2021 and when the governor lifted those restrictions for vaccinated residents in May, we fully reopened with no mask or social distancing restrictions. We still require masks for those who use our transportation, we disinfect throughout the day, and we urge members to wash their hands or use the hand sanitizer available at our doors, but for the most part, things are back to normal,” Faulkenberry said.
Faulkenberry describes the center as “a home away from home for our members.”
In the next 25 years, she said she hopes the center will still be considered a secondary home for the seniors of Spotswood.
“It’s a place where you can find community, something we need throughout our lives and often lose as we get older. My seniors are like a second family to me, and I want them to know that they will always have a place to feel safe and loved. Over the next 25 years, I hope the center continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of each generation so that it can continue to be a place residents want to be. I want that note left on the counter, that text message sent to a loved one, or some future form of correspondence to say, ‘I’m at the senior center,’ ” Faulkenberry said.
Contact Tyler Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.