COA strategic plan takes on a ‘new light’ due to pandemic

WESTFIELD-Staff members of the Westfield Council on Aging were recently commended for the job they are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic by the board of directors during its annual meeting.

“We wish to commend Mrs. Gorman and her staff for their ingenuity and flexibility in operating the senior center at this very difficult time,” said James V. Liptak, chair. “They are doing a tremendous job.”

The annual meeting was conducted May 11 during a video/conference call and was broadcast on cable Channel 15.

Tina Gorman, executive director, Westfield Council on Aging (COA), noted to the board that Council on Agings across the state are concerned about the older adults in their cities and towns being able to access COA services.

“All staff members are working harder than ever to help these people during this COVID-19 crisis,” said Gorman, adding she appreciated the support she receives from the board since “not all COA’s receive as much support.”

Among the highlights of the 50-minute meeting included the review of the three-year strategic plan draft that had been emailed to board members prior to the meeting. KerryAnn Kielbasa serves as chair of the Strategic Plan Subcommittee. The official date of the strategic plan launch is July 1, the first day of Fiscal Year 2021.

“In reviewing the strategic plan, I am realizing that it’s really going to have to be a rather fluid document for the first year,” said Gorman. “Because our reopening will be transitional with an unknown start date, many of the first year plans will have to be postponed. Right now, it’s difficult to plan for more than one month at a time.”

Gorman added because of that insight, the pandemic is providing a “unique opportunity” to work on the first goal and begin to implement the strategies and actions associated with that goal.

“Goal 1 is to have the COA/Center be known and respected throughout the community as the ‘go to’ resource for information, wellness, lifelong learning, elder services, recreation, and social interaction,” said Gorman.

Strategies and actions include creating core values and a vision, establishing a unique brand recognized by the community that appeals to its four decades of participants, implementing a series of ongoing outreach experiences to engage broader audiences, and expanding public awareness.

“We’re actually in the process of working on all of these actions,” said Gorman. “Although the Westfield Senior Center is closed to the public, many of the COA services have continued. I believe that we’ll consider our core values and vision in a new light and from a different perspective, perhaps a more thoughtful one.”

Gorman said the staff has also broaden its outreach efforts in recent weeks to reach older adults who are sheltering in place.

“We’re utilizing phone calls, conference calls, video meetings, and our local cable Channel 15,” said Gorman. “The feedback from older adults and their families has been positive, so those methods will continue into the future.”

Gorman added that the public at large is “much more aware” of the COA’s efforts and services because of the pandemic.

“As families struggle to keep their older relatives safe, they have learned about our services and programs,” she said.

Gorman also noted to board members she has learned in discussion groups that some COA directors are dealing with issues related to the use of their vans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the need for expanded transportation options is in the strategic plan, Gorman indicated she is glad that the Westfield Senior Center does not have to worry about that issue at the present time. Board members voted that the timeframe for expanded transportation be extended in the plan from the first to the second year because of the pandemic.

Gorman also gave board members updates on her regularly scheduled conference calls which include working with Westfield Emergency Management and the city’s Personnel Department. Additionally, Gorman conducts weekly conference calls with members of the Massachusetts Councils on Aging Association in conjunction with the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, and a Zoom meeting/conference call is conducted every other week with Western Massachusetts COA directors to share best practices, brainstorm various concerns and share ideas, and discuss the interpretation of Gov. Charlie Baker’s mandate for reopening senior centers.

In other COA news, officers accepting positions for FY21 were James Liptak, chair; KerryAnn Kielbasa, vice chair; Elizabeth Boucher, secretary, and Barbara Taylor, treasurer.

“I am delighted that the current board officers will remain in their positions for another year,” said Gorman. “We have an extremely dedicated and vibrant board of directors.”

Gorman said she is “most impressed” with their thoughtfulness in considering issues related to the city’s older adults from a number of different perspectives.

“They’re grounded and down-to-earth, but they also have a vision for expanded and improved services for Westfield’s seniors,” said Gorman. “All nine board members have been extremely supportive of the department’s efforts during this very challenging and difficult time.”

For a copy of the board’s minutes, visit cityofwestfield.org.

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