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Middletown Life

Q&A: Cecilia Rozumalski, Executive Director of the M.O.T. Jean Birch Senior Center

Sep 09, 2015 01:44PM ● By Steven Hoffman

In many ways, the continuing vibrancy of the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend Jean Birch Senior Center is reflective of the changing definition and purpose of a senior center, as well as the explosion of commercial and residential growth in the M.O.T. community. Recently, Middletown Life spoke to M.O.T. Jean Birch Senior Center Executive Director Cecilia Rozumalski about the modern-day role of a senior center, how the Center keeps up with the growth of the M.O.T. area, and its many programs that reach not only those in their later years, but active seniors.

Middletown Life: The Jean Birch Senior Center is now in its 48th year. It’s safe to say that the role a senior center plays in 2015 is a lot different than what it was in 1967. Talk about the role of a modern-day senior center in a community.

Rozumalski: It should really be a hub of activity, more like a community center, targeted to people 50 and older. What we found ten years ago was that there was a whole wave of people who retired at a much younger age. Companies like DuPont, Hercules and several other industries allowed people to retire at 55, 57 and 60, so senior centers shifted age-wise, to accommodate that audience. Now, even people who are working full time are beginning to prepare for retirement at age 50, and may be interested in what types of benefits that are available, what kind of activities there are at a center and in the area, and they are looking to move to the Middletown area because they want a new place to locate upon their retirement.

The common thread through the many age levels who use the Center – from active seniors in their fifties to people who are over 100 – is that we try to project the theme of keeping people happy and healthy and living free of institutional care, for as long as possible.

ML: To use an analogy, the five full-time staff at the Birch Senior Center are the owners of the house and maintain its overall function, but it’s very clear that volunteers are responsible for the design of that house. What are some of the volunteer opportunities currently available at the Senior Center?

Rozumalski: Most volunteers would like to come in and serve lunch, but there are so many other volunteer opportunities. We’re in partnership with Wawa Corporation, and three days a week, we use volunteers to pick up food items at our local Wawa stores. We run three different routes of Meals on Wheels every week, so we need 20 volunteers for those routes. We have painting opportunities, and handy-man opportunities. We need security guards for nighttime duty, to help welcome those who rent our facility for events. We need a volunteer army to help us prepare our pies for The Peach Festival.

One of our volunteers had former experience with catering, so he helps with our special dinners. We’re open to allowing people to volunteer in whatever they think is fun, and have a knowledge base for.

There’s a larger purpose here; volunteering becomes one of the methods to keep someone active and healthy, and it broadens their social network, which enables them to stay in the community as long as they are able, in a healthy way.

ML: The Birch Senior Center is located between two high schools and nearby a private school, and many other schools. Talk about the partnerships the Center has been able to make with local schools.

Rozumalski: We have members who like to go to elementary schools and read to the younger schools. We have a lot of high school students who volunteer here, mostly over the Easter holiday break, Christmas break and during the summers. We have students from St. Ann’s Day care come trick-or-treat through the Senior Center. We try to work with all of the schools.

ML: What are favorite times of the day at the Birch Senior Center? What do those pictures look like?

Rozumalski: Lunch time is loud and a lot of fun, but the quiet times are nice, too. I like to go out to the front porch. Someone always flags me down, and asks me what’s coming up at the Senior Center, or how we made out with this or that event. It’s my time to try to catch up with a few people.

ML: Do you ever stop to acknowledge that what you, the staff and volunteers are doing is helping to keep the minds, the hands of the feet of hundreds of your local senior generation active and moving?

Rozumalski: I’m really proud of what we do here, because we’re helping to keep people connected. One of the biggest difficulties in aging is becoming isolated, especially if you’re coming here from a different state. There’s a real social service side with what we do, which is to connect people with benefits, make food baskets for people who can’t quite make ends meet, finding resources for people who can’t afford to fill that tank with oil for another winter, or finding help for a widow whose spouse is now gone and is now lost – because her husband paid all of the bills.

I met a gentlemen not too long ago who told us that he was in a bad living situation. He could not find work, and was behind in some of his bills, and he didn’t know what to do. Because we are a true community here in the MOT area, I was able to contact a manager over at Walmart and tell him that I know someone who could really use a hand. We were able to give him some supplemental food, and we hooked him up with other resources. He’s now one of our phenomenal recent success stories. I had someone from Walmart e-mail me, saying that this man is fantastic, and if we have any one else who has this man’s spark and desire, to please let them know.

ML: Do you have a favorite spot in the area?

Rozumalski: I like the playground and the driving range over near Legends. If I have time to unwind, I can go park my car there and watch kids playing on the playground, or watch golfers tee off. That’s a really nice spot for me. 

ML: What guests, living or not, would you like have at your dinner party?

Rozumalski: I would have to say my great grandfather and father. They were both voracious readers, who loved to travel and who loved to document everything they did. They were also very good at connecting the cultural aspects of where they went and what they did to their families, as well as to the social groups they belonged to; particulalrly my grandfather, who was involved with the Scottish Lodge and The Masons. My father told me the story about the time when he broke his arm when he was a small boy. His grandfather set his arm, and once they got to the hospital, the doctors found out that they didn’t have to do much, because my great grandfather knew what to do. When asked how he knew how to set an arm, he told the doctors that he had read medical books. My father was my favorite history teacher, and he enjoyed telling me stories from all of the books he had read.

The Middletown-Odessa-Townsend Jean Birch Senior Center is located on 300 S. Scott Street, Middletown, DE 19709. To learn more about the Center, or to inquire about volunteer opportunities, call the Center at 302-378-4758.

Richard L. Gaw

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