Newtown: New Senior Center a Hot Topic
Posted: Saturday, October 29, 2016 6:00 am
by Linda Zukauskas
NEWTOWN — Resident Curt Symes is promoting the senior agenda in Newtown, which he describes as more than just a new senior center.
He told Voices that he has three roles, one as a senior in the community, as a professional certified senior advisor, and as chair of the Commission on Aging.
When he arrived to the commission a few years ago, he was frustrated with what he described as the lack of productivity in advocating for the senior community, one of the fastest growing populations.
He worked closely with the then chair Tom Dwyer to provide a background and identify ways to improve the management and administration of the senior center.
“We are not doing right by our seniors,” he said the problem is that, while the town has an active center, it does not adequately serve the more than 5,000 people who qualify as seniors.
Mr. Symes has petitioned elected town officials to promote the idea of increasing spending in this area, such as the funding of a new senior center.
The current center exists within a multi-purpose center and he would like to influence the town toward supporting the $3 million described in the Capital Improvement Plan, a facility that would be designed for seniors.
“It’s a vision we developed back in 2013,” he said that discussions had been sparked with the $15 million donation from General Electric for a community center.
An earlier version of the project included a senior center and Mr. Symes worked with GE representatives to keep seniors in the minds of everyone connected to the project.
“Remember the seniors,” he would say.
As the plans for the center evolved over the next few years, he put in approximately 1,000 hours of research at area senior centers to compile their characteristics.
“What we got was a really good story,” he said that a business case developed from the work, highlighting the need for a senior center and anticipated growth in participants.
The architect working on the project noted that there was a distinct advantage to creating a community center in proximity to a senior center, including the ability to share resources such as a kitchen.
While Mr. Symes feels the original proposal got a bum rap, he wants to keep the valuable work that was created and could be used to benefit the senior population.
His efforts today recognize that the planned community center does not include a senior component and he continues his goal of providing a place for seniors.
He recently worked with the finance director and first selectman to propose a center in the town’s CIP, which were begun more than 10 years ago.
Mr. Symes is now attending CIP review meetings with the town’s boards and Legislative Council to emphasize the need to keep those funds in the CIP and end the long wait for seniors.
As part of his educational push to create support for a new center, he is sharing information to illustrate how seniors support the school system, contrary to the popular belief to the contrary.
“Why do seniors seem to be sticking around in Newtown despite rising taxes?” He pointed out that grandparents or grand aunts and uncles are vested in the educational system.
He is also working to dispel the myth that seniors are, “old, crotchety people.”
For Mr. Symes, the center has become a focal point or metaphor for the opportunities that the town has to increase its offerings for seniors.
The wish list includes an approximately 12,000 square foot space for seniors, directly attached to the new community center, continuing the senior tax relief program, expanded senior programs, and greater socialization.
He noted that the current senior center is only open during business hours, “We are not effectively maximizing senior socialization.”
In addition to the efforts of the Commission on Aging, the Friends of Newtown Seniors is forming committees to promote the cause of seniors.
Mr. Symes is proud of the numbers of people who want to volunteer their time. “It is not just seniors, it is children of seniors, too. It’s the whole spectrum of society, all focused on how do we improve things for seniors in Newtown. Fundamentally, that’s what it’s all about.”
The friends are now acting as a rallying point for people interested in supporting the town’s seniors.
Anyone who would like more information or the opportunity to volunteer can contact John Bocuzzi at 203-364-0360.
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