HOWELL – It is generally thought that when it comes to the senior population, many cultures tend to treat their elders with a great deal more respect than do countries like the United States. Other cultures are taught to revere their elders, because not only are they seen as a link with past traditions, it is also believed that younger generations may learn from them.
As the population of the United States ages, it places a tremendous financial strain on the nation’s resources, especially when seniors are infirmed or incapacitated. But many seniors still have plenty of vitality and are looking to enjoy their golden years with not only their families, but with their peers.
That’s the aim of the Howell Senior Center, whose mission statement is “to offer Howell residents 60 years of age and over, and their caregivers, programs and services that promote safety, encourage healthy living, and enhance quality of life.”
Howell’s interest in the welfare of its senior population finds its roots with the Howell Senior Citizens Club, established in 1972. More interest and financial backing came from the township and the State of New Jersey in the ensuing 12 years, and in 1984 the expansion of the Senior Center began. Construction of the current building was completed in 1985 and has been serving the citizens of Howell since that time.
In order to join the senior center, members must be 60 years of age, must meet a certain level of competency and pay taxes to Howell Township. According to data cited on censusreporter.org, approximately 22 percent of Howell’s population is 60 years old or older, which equates to more than 11,000 of the township’s residents.
The center is run by Melanie Decker, who has served as the Director for almost eight years. Decker, who has a B.A. in psychology from Stockton University and a Master of Arts from The College of New Jersey is also a National Certified Counselor, a Licensed Professional Counselor, and an Approved Clinical Supervisor.
“I grew up in Howell and I used to come here when I was in elementary school,” says Decker of her early interaction with the Senior Center. “So, it brought me back to my youth when the Senior Center would go to events at the schools or have an event here with the schools.”
The center provides a myriad of services for its members, including counseling about legal issues, finances, health, and even personal concerns. In addition, they offer housing and education information, lectures, recreational and exercise programs, arts and crafts, volunteer activities and even a small library.
“I continue to look for services that we are missing or that the members need so that we can provide it when necessary,” explains Decker. “An example of this would be having a hairdresser here one time a month. I found that members were having a difficult time getting haircuts or were paying more money for transportation versus the actual haircut.”
When members need assistance with negotiating the difficulties of municipal, county or state programs that may be available to them, the Senior Center staff can often assist and guide them to the proper office space or through cyberspace.
But the Center is not just a problem-solving resource, nor a collection of senior citizens drinking coffee and reminiscing about old times. While the Center does offer seniors assistance with getting COVID shots or boosters, it also gives its members help with computers and offers blood pressure screenings.
Of course, healthy living is continually stressed, and in addition to the recent boxing class that took place, the Center has Tai Chi classes, a bi-weekly exercise class, meditation courses and even a walking club.
“We are always trying to improve and find new and exciting adventures for the center and our members,” says Decker. “We strive to offer a variety of different trips, events, and activities so that we can accommodate all the different needs and wants of our members. Since we have seniors aged sixty and up, we know we need to keep everyone entertained and happy. However, we try our hardest to offer a little bit of something for everyone.”
The Senior Center has a small fleet of shuttle buses that can take the members to various field trips. Many of the planned excursions are booked with the vendors six months in advance, but members are not told about future outings until the Senior Center is ready to divulge them. While the Center has its own monthly newsletter known as the “Senior Gazette” to announce future events, many of the trips and new programs are kept a staff secret because, as Decker explains, “it’s always a surprise to the members to find out what is going on.”
Just in July alone, the Center had scheduled trips to the Columbus Flea Market, the Bell Works location in Holmdel, Cruz Farms in Howell, the Point Pleasant Boardwalk and even a boat ride on the Manasquan Reservoir. A visit to Jersey Freeze Ice Cream is planned for later in the month.
Of course, the Senior Center offers larger events as well, such as next month’s outing to Medieval Times in Bergen County.
But part of the simple charm of the Senior Center is in the day-to-day interactions that the staff has with the members.
“My staff and I always feel that we are fortunate to work at the Center and with our seniors,” says Decker. “We afford them opportunities that some may not have without us. I consider the Center a home away from home and enjoy that our members feel the same way. I love to know that my staff and I are a part of creating an environment that fosters love, friendship, respect, and laughter.”
Members have even had the opportunity to participate in billiards tournaments and “Senior Senior Proms” that have been coordinated by the Center. In addition, the Center partners with other agencies and departments in town to coordinate events, including the police and fire departments, local schools, the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Alliance and even the Howell P.A.L.
“I have always felt it to be a great honor to work for Howell Township and to serve our community, especially our seniors,” explains Decker. “I was hired in November 2014 as the Director of Senior Services and I have loved every minute of it. I have enjoyed all of the jobs I have worked at, but this is by far my favorite.”
The Howell Senior Center is located at 251 Preventorium Road in Howell, and those interested in joining may call (732) 938-3950 extension 2550.