WEST HARTFORD — Rebecca Sears, the town’s new senior center director, has spent her adult life working with older adults.
A Granby resident, Sears took on the role overseeing the Elmwood Senior Center and the West Hartford Senior Center at the end of September. She previously held the positions of sales and marketing director for LCB Senior Living and director of marketing at the Hebrew Center for Health and Rehabilitation in West Hartford.
“My whole career has been spent helping seniors,” Sears said. “I like the history behind every person. It’s always nice to sit down with somebody who has been on the earth for 80 years. They have a lot to share and a lot to teach you.”
Sears said she wants to make sure West Hartford’s older adults know they matter to the town.
“When they are in need of care, it’s hard for them to ask for help or know to look for help once they find themselves vulnerable,” she said. “You might not know where to turn. They’re always so grateful for assistance. There’s a tendency when we get older to be placated by younger people or dismissed. It’s really important to feel relevant as you grow older.”
Sears takes over for two senior center directors who were popular in the community: Gina Marino at the Bishops Corner location and Kathleen Faroni at the Elmwood location. Both retired and Sears said she is excited to take the ideas and programs they installed and push things further.
“It’s actually the perfect time to take all the good things that Gina and Kathleen did and start to integrate new things,” Sears said. “It almost feels like we’re starting from scratch coming out of COVID. This is a town that would allow for big things to happen in the senior center. I like big things. I like challenges. I like over the top events. I like to have an active and busy center.”
They recently hosted a welcome back dance at the Bishops Corner center, with more following on Nov. 18, Dec. 9 and Dec. 23. These celebratory dances that brought older adults back to the center signify an important moment for Sears, as she worries about isolation among the senior population.
“We’re in a unique situation coming out of COVID,” Sears said. “Seniors have been isolated for a long period of time. It’s a great opportunity to start to have open conversations around good brain health. It’s a good time to look at what happens to us emotionally and spiritually when we’re isolated from one another.”
Sears said she wants to provide a space for seniors to talk about what the COVID-19 pandemic was like for them.
“The seniors were the first population to just bear the brunt of COVID,” Sears said. “It’s this plague that’s out there that’s targeting your age group. You have the most experience and the most knowledge and the most to give and contribute to society, but you’re being told you need to stay away. There’s a direct correlation to seniors being in isolation and seeing an increase in depression and anxiety and a decline in cognition.”
Sears said she hopes to create an “alive and vivacious” senior center that isn’t seen as a place to slow down in life, but instead to build up.
“To be a senior is a powerful place to be. These human beings are a rich, rich resource for our community,” Sears said. “You don’t stop becoming innovative just because you age. They are an important part of society. It’s going to be great to create a space for them where they are at the forefront and are leading the pack and taking charge and being part of that creative process. It’s a learning center. It’s a social center. It’s a center to create and build your skills. You can come here to work. You come to learn, create and be with other people. And you still matter.”