Williston may offer more choices for older residents

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Twelve senior men and women lean over and reach for their toes with steady, sure arms. They move spryly and eagerly, smiling and cracking jokes as they bend. The mood is light and serene and tight-knit.

“You can see the difference of how much farther everyone is going on their stretches than they used to,” Del Borah says, as lowered heads nodded in agreement. “The progress is amazing.”

Borah and his workout partners were attending one of the sessions of the senior drop-in program that meets twice a week at Williston Federated Church. The program, which is sponsored by the town and the church, is the first municipal senior program in Williston to gain a steady audience, according to Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan.

The program’s participants and organizers hope it will serve as a first step toward expanded offerings for seniors in town, including, in the long run, the development of a municipal senior center.

“We’ve been trying to do something for seniors since I came here,” Finnegan says. “It’s mostly been hit or miss. But this has really been popular. We’re excited about it.”

The drop-in program has been running since September at the church’s Fellowship Hall. Exercise and socializing have been the central elements of the program from the outset.

The YMCA provided an exercise instructor for the program for free from September to January. The seniors have paid a small fee to help support the program since then.

The program meets Tuesdays and Thursdays and is open to senior Williston residents. Finnegan says each session typically draws between 12 and 20 participants. The overall list of participants includes approximately 40 names. The program largely draws participants from three Williston senior housing developments: Williston Woods, Taft Farm and Whitney Hill.

Participants say the exercise is critical to their health and provides an obvious benefit to their daily lives, making them feel more vigorous and capable.

For example, program participant Sharon Miles says she would not do the exercise on her own at home. The drop-in program gives her an incentive to get physically fit. Borah says the program helps prevent the seniors from submitting to a sedentary life.

“Besides,” Caroline Ford adds. “You get to see all these good friends.”

Indeed, the close companionship among the program participants was obvious at a recent session. Good-natured ribbing and understated signs of support were both prevalent.

The participants say they are eager to increase the drop-in program’s hours and activities. They would like to see the program venture into outings, like bus tours and luncheons on Lake Champlain, and a diverse variety of activities, like painting and Tai Chi.

Finnegan hopes the program develops into a place that can attract speakers on senior issues. The key, he said, is that the seniors participating will run the program. They will choose the type of activities that are featured, he said. He said it is similar to the way the town provides teenagers with a voice in determining municipal offerings for their peer group.

“I’d really like this group to set the direction for seniors’ programs here,” Finnegan says.

The participants said they were pleased to see the town developing a senior program, particularly in light of the extensive municipal offerings for youth.

“It’s important for us to have the town support its seniors, as well as all its young people,” Borah says.

Finnegan says a full-fledged senior center would provide a further boost for the town’s aging population. Senior centers are credited with helping seniors stay active, while serving to cure the creeping loneliness that can accompany advancing years.

Finnegan says he has toured the Charlotte Senior Center and seen the impact it had on the senior population there.

“If we could develop something here like that, that would be phenomenal,” he says.