New center director has plans for bright future
Story and photo By Terry Duffy
At last, some good news for seniors in the River Region.
The Town of Lewiston has begun preparations toward a long-anticipated reopening of the Lewiston Senior Center, 4361 Lower River Road, on the northern end of the town. The Senior Center will reopen for business Tuesday, Sept. 1, with all the required COVID-19 preparations in place.
It has plans for a bright future.
Shut down soon after the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic in March, much has transpired since then, including the naming of a new director to replace Jeanette Collesano, who retired from that post earlier this year following 26 years of service.
At its June meeting, the Lewiston Town Board announced the appointment of Melinda Olick of Cambria to take over as the new director. Formerly a member of the Town of Cambria assessors’ office, Olick, a civil service appointee, brings a wealth of experience and passion working with the Niagara County senior community to her new position.
“Before I came here I worked for the Town of Cambria in the assessor’s office. Prior to that, I worked for the Niagara County Office for the Aging and the Nutrition Program, like what we have here,” Olick said. “Before that, I worked for the Niagara County Community Action Program, doing food stamp outreach. I worked with a lot of elderly there. And before that, I worked for the Niagara County Head Start Program.”
Familiar with the Lewiston Senior Center community, Olick said her time spent at the facility dates back to her association with the Niagara County Office for the Aging, when Collesano’s predecessor, Betty Zucco, served as senior center director.
“When I worked for the county for the Nutrition Program, I did fill in for Phyllis, who was the previous site director here. I did work here, but that was many moons ago when I did the nutrition outreach and education program, which was the food stamp outreach program. I went to every senior site in Niagara County and spoke to the seniors. Betty was here the first time I came.”
Olick said part of her responsibilities while with the Cambria assessor’s office was working with senior populations.
“The reason why I went for that job is because it was working with the elderly, helping them with their exemptions,” she said.
Olick said she is excited to continue her passion of serving the senior community with her new role in Lewiston. And topping her list is to make sure the Lewiston Senior Center conforms to all COVID-19 social distancing protocols and Niagara County Health Department requirements. Olick said that’s meant to ensure a safe, happy and healthy experience for the more than 100 area seniors, age 60 to 95 from throughout the River Region who frequent the facility on a weekly basis.
“We were hoping to have the nutrition program start up on Sept. 1,” she said, noting the continued shutdown and the center staff’s strong focus on health and safety. “We’re going to try to gradually phase things back; we’re not even sure what it is going to look like, what programs we’re going to be able to have.
“Carol, Patty and I, and the van drivers, too, we’ve been going through and making sure every surface is cleared off, so that everything can be disinfected a couple times a day. Really, it’s all about that. We don’t think that (things like) card playing is going to happen (just yet). … We’re just trying to work through this.
“We kind of want to start with, maybe like the Senior Club, and what we can do with bingo. Some of the groups are anxious to come back, but the issue is the social distancing.”
Suggesting it was sort of a “feel your away around” situation, Olick said. “We’ve been looking for the guidelines, and the county’s (help). … What we have here now … it’s our understanding how they would have it. The tables are (at) 50% capacity, so what we’re hearing … it would be something like four people at the long table.”
What about the protocols to visit and for lunch services?
“My understanding is that we would have people go through the typical questionnaire (for COVID-19), have your temperature taken, and then have people sign in, and disinfect all surfaces as we go. So we were discussing having a table in the entryway (for that purpose),” Olick said.
Long-term staffer Carol Jacobs, who assisted in running the center during its down time, commented, “We are still providing van service to our seniors, for medical, for going to the grocery store if they need to, or the bank, post office, that type of thing.
Jacobs said she envisions those services to continue for Lewiston seniors as well as those in the Porter-Youngstown, Sanborn and Wheatfield communities.
“I think we’re going to remain that way,” she said. “It has always been; we have people that come, even from Niagara Falls down here to participate in the programs here. We’ve always had the Youngstown van that has brought people here for our programs … exercise class, that type of thing.
“For some reason, we see some Sanborn people, but not all of them. A lot of them come down to play cards, and a lot of them also come on certain days, for a meal, that type of thing. But we’ve always been encompassing for the little towns and villages around us. … We like that they come here.”
Olick and Jacobs said they are hopeful for a return of the many offerings that have become popular at the center.
“The Larks are a singing group, they’re here every Wednesday; we have a group that plays mahjong on Monday; Tuesday is always senior club day. Wednesday was bingo day and we also had a group that would come and play bridge; Thursdays was always the euchre club, and one a month the travel club would meet on a Thursday,” Jacobs said. “We’re hoping (for their return), with some type of social distancing in place.”
“We’re hoping we’re going to have everybody just to be glad to get back for the socialization and that they’ll comply with all the requirements. I think that everybody, at this point, will be used to it; but I hope anyway,” Olick said.
Both admit area seniors have become frustrated throughout the entire closure process.
“It’s so sad, frustrating. Especially the ones that live alone; they’re so scared to go out. A lot of them have my cell number and they will call me. They need to talk, hear another voice,” Jacobs said. “We’ve been receiving a lot of calls, just to get back. A number of them can’t drive; they rely on this.”
Olick said the Niagara County Nutrition Program is scheduled to return Aug. 10, but that Lewiston’s program would resume Sept. 1 with the center’s reopening.
“They’re not happy about it,” Olick said when asked of the feedback. “They’re upset because we opted to wait. The county nutrition program is stating up on the 10th of August. We opted to wait and see just how that was going to play out, with the setup, etc.”
Olick stressed the center’s focus has been providing a safe environment for a return of food services.
“I kind of wanted to see how that is going to go, especially being not all that familiar with our seniors. I started on July 1, but our staff, the van drivers, we have talked about it. We consulted and said, ‘Let’s wait and see how the county does with it,’ and we’re hoping to open Sept. 1,” Olick said.
She noted Lewiston seniors are welcome to utilize the county Nutrition Program that will be operating this month at its two service locations in Niagara Falls (The John Duke Center or the LaSalle Nutrition Program). To inquire, contact Mindy Doran, nutrition services coordinator, at 438-4031.
As far as a return to social activities, Olick said she is hopeful for a return to normalcy as the days go on.
“We can start with the Lewiston Senior Club, some other activities, and just kind of gradually take baby steps getting things back open. Hopefully, it will go without any issue along the way,” she said.
“We’re anxious for everybody to come back – can’t wait for them to be able to come back. We wish it could be sooner, but we want everybody to be safe.”
For updates on the Senior Center, she invites residents to contact her at 716-754-2071.