| Correspondent/Taunton Daily Gazette
BERKLEY — Amanda Blais applied for the position of Council On Aging director on Feb. 9 and her first day on the job was just short of two weeks later, on Feb 22.
She admitted the era of COVID restrictions and problematic vaccine roll-outs has been a challenging time to take on the role of caring for Berkley’s senior population. But she is meeting the challenge with practical hopes for the future.
In the first week that she was in charge at the Berkley COA senior center, Blais said, it was thought Berkley would soon see the COVID vaccine. The town had already ordered the appropriate freezer for it.
“Then the rules changed without a reason,” she said. “We are telling people to call 211, but then it’s still a challenge to schedule an appointment.”
But that’s where her plans for a better future for the Berkley Council On Aging start. She wants to a find a volunteer or volunteers who would assist seniors at the senior center computer with setting up vaccine appointments. Through grant funding, she wants to use a Taunton’s GATRA transportation service to get them to vaccine appointments.
More importantly, she wants to expand what the Council On Aging does for Berkley seniors.
“This should be their home away from home, socially,” she said. “We need more here than puzzles and playing cards. We should do something for their minds and physical interests.”
The senior center on Mondays still hosts the quilting club because it has only eight members and the Italian class because it has only three participants. Once the indoor capacity can be expanded to 12, she’d like Bingo to return and to bring the outdoor aerobics class inside.
Beyond these basic offerings, she would also like the senior center to feature more programs for younger seniors, such as Zumba and other exercise classes.
Another idea she has is to run “fix it” classes that will attract male seniors to how-to-build or repair workshops that local scouts could lend a hand with.
“Merge the old generation with the young generation,” she explained.
She said she’s making sure she knows what the seniors themselves want, by asking them.
“I’m finding out from them what they want to do. They talk about the different trips they’d like to take. We’d have to find the money for transportation and tickets. But we rely heavily on donations,” she said.
It bothers her that currently the senior center is technically closed.
“I am a staff of one right now,” she said, “and I have to lean heavily on volunteers. I’d love to expand, look at grant funding for a van. And I’d love to get more people involved.”
She said, unfortunately, the question of when other programs will come back will depend on state decisions.
“We are at the mercy of the state. Then we can discuss when we can come back,” she explained.
Selectmen Chair George Miller has confidence Blais will be able to handle the challenges ahead.
“We’re very pleased with our new hire for Council On Aging director,” he said. “She has superior experience working with and helping seniors. The community looks forward to her success in the near and far future.”
“We chose her because we like her fresh ideas,” added Selectman and Council On Aging board member Wendy Cochrane.
Blais, a New Bedford native, started her career working in municipal government in Fairhaven, where she accumulated seven years of experience. She earned a bachelor’s in the double major of psychology and criminal justice from UMass Dartmouth in 2016. Now she is working on her master’s in mental health counseling in the Leadership Program at Salve Regina University.
In between, she found the time to start a program for seniors who are hoarders at the Acuteness Council on Aging senior center, a workshop she still runs.
Not surprisingly, she said her ultimate goal after she earns her master’s is to specialize in mental health counseling for older adults.