Morris Becomes an Innovative Senior Center

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for the over 60-set.  As one of the city’s eight new Innovative Senior Centers (ISCs), the BronxWorks Morris Senior Center is now an example of what services for older adults should look like in the 21st century.

Some 126 seniors were on hand on Saturday, January 21st, for the center’s kickoff ceremony.  It is now known as the BronxWorks Morris Innovative Senior Center.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera spoke and praised BronxWorks for being the only Bronx-based organization to have an ISC and said he was proud to have it in his district.

From left to right: Theresa Racine, athletic instructor; Lesly Exil, Assistant Director, Morris Senior Center; Maria Rivera, BronxWorks Director of Senior Services; Carolyn McLaughlin, BronxWorks Executive Director; State Senator Gustavo Rivera; Solomon Smart, Director, East Concourse Senior Center; Linda Tomoney-Hill, Program Aide, Morris Senior Center

The center’s underlying philosophy emphasizes the different interests of, for example, a just-retired 60-year-old compared to those of an 80-year-old out of the workforce for decades.  “A lot of what the ISCs are looking to do relates to health and wellness for seniors,” says development director Ken Small, “but they also recognize that seniors are not monolithic.”

The space, operated by BronxWorks for 20 years as a neighborhood senior center, is one of eight ISCs selected by Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) as part of the city’s Age Friendly NYC Initiative. Under a three-year grant, BronxWorks is redesigning activities for seniors in the Morris Heights, Mount Hope, and Tremont communities.

“After a competitive process, we have found the most qualified providers to enhance and transform our senior center network,” said Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, commissioner of the New York Department for the Aging. “We’ve set the bar very high.”

BronxWorks’ ideas for nutrition, community gardening, a self-management initiative for chronic disease, and geriatric mental health care were cited in the city’s announcement of the grant.

“What is most important is the increased number and quality of activities,” says Maria Rivera, BronxWorks’ director of senior services.

The center, which will be open an additional 141 hours a year, is well-positioned to engage the Bronx’s varied and newly emerging elderly immigrant populations. Collectively BronxWorks staffers speak 30 languages.

The Morris center, which in 2011 served 65,000 meals, will increase that number to 80,125 in 2012.  A new addition will be seasonal Wednesday dinner/activities nights planned to accommodate working seniors.

Increased individual case assistance and new information and referral services also are planned. The Morris ISC will collaborate more with other institutions, including nearby colleges and universities, health providers, and law enforcement.  As a prelude to forthcoming activities, the center collaborated with State Senator Gustavo Rivera in November to host a job fair that targeted seniors who seek to re-enter the workforce.

Other upcoming expansions or additions include Saturday programming 12 times a year, increased socialization opportunities, technology and art classes, healthy aging help, and more intergenerational activities.

The Council of Senior Centers and Services (CSCS), an advocacy group for older adults throughout New York City, is exploring plans for a documentary film on Morris and the other centers that make up the city’s “elite eight” ISCs.  Ms. Rivera says, “We’re proud to be part of history and welcome the opportunity to play a role in the documentation of that history.”

Above: Theresa Racine leads an exercise class

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