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The Erving Senior Community Center Offers a Little Bit of Everything

six women, including Janis Lefebre, working on comfort blanketsJanis Lefebre, left, working on “comfort blankets” to donate to nursing homes, local police and fire departments, and the DA’s office.Do you want a massage once a month or a place to drop by and play pool? How about access to nine different exercise programs each week including chair yoga, line dancing, aerobics, stretching and balance, and “fun bowling?” Or transportation to shopping, meals, and medical appointments? The Erving Senior Community Center offers this and so much more, all in a beautifully decorated, welcoming space that includes a lending library for books, movies, and music; an exercise room; a massage table; free wifi and six available laptops; and a working fireplace. There are even individual garden plots out back for elders with a green thumb.

The Erving Senior Community Center also serves hot, noon lunches. Some of the lunches are catered by LifePath with federal funding, while others are cooked in-house and supported by local funds. When I visit for a lunch and to learn about the center, I am served a delicious homemade BLT with chips, chicken soup, and strawberry shortcake with whipped cream for dessert. Raspberry iced tea is offered as well and a cake is presented to celebrate an elder’s birthday.

A Quilters’ Workshop is held on Fridays and the center hosts Bingo (with snacks provided) on Wednesdays.

Paula Betters, the Erving Senior Community Center Director for the last five years, explains, “We’re trying to get them in here so that they can have their nutritious lunch because so many adults live by themselves and just open a Lean Cuisine. Plus, the socialization is huge. Huge.” Paula says she just attended a Mass Council on Aging conference where they spoke about the lack of socialization as a contributing factor to the onset of dementia.

About 20-34 elders usually attend the lunches, including friends Janis Lefebre, 90, of Athol, and Rae Kowacki, 86, of Erving, who light up the meal with their witty banter. Rae tells me how Janis celebrated her 87th birthday by jumping out of an airplane. Janis pipes in with, “I had a handsome guy strapped on my back. Sadly, that was the last time.”

“You’re still a cougar,” says Rae. Janis replies, “I am.”

Paula Betters, Erving Senior Community Center DirectorPaula Betters, Erving Senior Community Center DirectorPaula calls Janis and Rae “quite the pair” and mentions there is often a 101 year old elder present who joins right in.

According to Janis, elders who attend the lunches in Erving, including herself, are “very fortunate because everybody is fun.”

Rae tells me that a group of them tried to set up a zip lining trip years ago, but the zip line company wouldn’t allow it because of their ages. “They think of seniors as being SENIORS,” Janis states with frustration.

Paula points out that at the conference she attended the week before, she heard that “most of the senior centers don’t want to be known as ‘senior.’ They feel that people don’t come to the centers because of that.” Paula then tells the table, “So I have thought about changing it to ‘SENTER,’ as in ‘just you come to the SENTER.’ That’s why we say ‘Creative Aging.’ Yeah, it’s an art. Come to Erving to discover it.’”

Paula brings up a controversial past Easter bonnet competition held at the center. Janis worked very hard on her Easter bonnet, but Rae ended up winning after forgoing her bonnet, which she was not happy with, and turning her pea-green fur pocket book upside down and placing it on her head instead. Rae describes with satisfaction how mad Janis was at not winning and how Rae then used a picture of herself with the purse over her head on her Christmas card. Janis states, “I’m still in shock.”

The center hosts a lot of events and activities. “We have a beautiful craft fair here. It’s not quite juried, but it kind of is, because if it’s not good I don’t want it [in the show],” states Paula, “We get about 500 to 600 people from all over.” This year’s craft fair/holiday bazaar will be held December 7.

A Quilters’ Workshop is held on Fridays and the center hosts Bingo (with snacks provided) on Wednesdays. Judy Anderson, 74, of Wendell, is an avid bingo player who began visiting the center with her sister about ten years ago. Although her sister passed away, Judy still attends Bingo, as well as the lunches.

Paula works full time and then some to support all of the activities and events at the Erving Senior Community Center. Her previous career included twenty years as the product design development person and senior retail buyer at Yankee Candle, where she had the opportunity to travel the world. She also has a background in interior design, which is evident throughout the center, right down to pens adorned with seasonally appropriate flowers.

Friends of the Erving Senior Center, a volunteer group, helps with the craft fair and to earn money to help the community throughout the year. It costs a one-time fee of $20 to join Friends of the Erving Senior Center and gives locals “the opportunity to have a say [in how the funds are used],” according to Paula. In fact, the Friends group raised $1,673 for the Erving Fire Department for their Knox Home Box program, in which the Fire Department installs a locked box on the home’s front door, which holds a house key, with the Fire and Police Department holding the master key to all the boxes. This program is designed so that emergency responders can enter an enrolled resident’s home without damaging the door or windows, or pulling air conditioners.

The Friends group also donates “comfort blankets” to nursing homes, local police and fire departments, and to the DA’s office. These blankets are for anyone who needs them after a traumatic event, and visitors to the center make the blankets on site. While I am visiting there is a group of about 6, including Janis, working on them.

The Erving Senior Community Center hosts a LifePath SHINE representative once a week to help elders with their Medicare-related needs and offers a free handyman service funded via a grant from LifePath and the Community Foundation of Western Mass. Paula states, “We are very fortunate to have LifePath. We will often call them. As much as we can use them, we use them, because I think LifePath is God’s gift.”

The list of services and entertainment offered through the center goes on and on, including veterans’ services the first Wednesday of every month, and “Ask the Nurse” the first Tuesday of every month, where elders can get a blood pressure and oxygen check and ask any health-related questions they have. Paula encourages anyone to call the center for help or to find out more at 413-423-3649. You will probably end up talking to her. Or feel free to visit, even if it’s just for a coffee or espresso, at 1 Care Drive in Erving.