WESTFIELD-An open house for the older LGBTQ+ community and friends will be hosted by staff at the Westfield Senior Center on Feb. 29.
The ‘Leap’ Out to Breakfast event is planned from 9 – 11 a.m. and will include a complementary continental breakfast.
“Many older adults in the LGBTQ+ community feel isolated and lonely because years ago they were disowned by their families and unwelcome by their churches, health care providers, and the community at-large,” said Tina Gorman, executive director, Westfield Council on Aging (COA).
Gorman said she had been approached by a member of the gay community in recent years who had suggested reaching out to the city’s older adults who are LGBTQ+.
“LGBTQ+ is an acronym meant to encompass a variety of diverse sexualities and genders,” said Gorman. “The Q is an umbrella term standing for ‘queer’ under which fall various identities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”
Gorman added she and COA program director Mary Lou Niedzielski attended a training workshop on the subject shortly after that suggestion which was offered at the Holyoke Council on Aging.
“The workshop was eye-opening,” said Gorman.
Fast forward to last summer when Rachel Tynan, a student at Westfield State University, and her faculty adviser, Dr. Tamara Smith, approached Gorman about a social research project.
“I asked them to explore the needs of the city’s older LGBTQ+ community so that the Council on Aging could begin to address those issues,” said Gorman. “With the help of a member of the gay community, Rachel formed two focus groups to solicit input.”
Based on Tynan’s findings, Smith shared the research report with Gorman and Niedzielski.
“The report was the foundation for the formation of a small steering committee to develop and implement an action plan,” said Gorman.
The open house will be an opportunity to welcome members of the older LGBTQ+ community and friends to the Westfield Senior Center. Staff will be on hand to provide tours to those who have never visited the center. The monthly newsletter and informational flyers about services and programs will also be available.
Local musician Ed Bentley will provide background music during the event which will feature coffee, tea, muffins, pastries, and mini quiches.
“The open house will be an opportunity to socialize and perhaps, form some new friendships,” said Gorman.
Gorman noted the open house is a “first step.”
“We will have a short questionnaire for participants to complete,” she said, adding, “The steering committee is looking for input from members of the older LGBTQ+ community regarding the frequency and types of events they would like to see. Ideas and suggestions might be educational, social, or a combination of both.”
Gorman said this event aligns with the Council on Aging’s five-year strategic plan.
“One of the goals in the proposed plan is to enhance programming to attract underserved populations,” said Gorman, adding, “that includes LGBTQ+, veterans, older adults with mental health challenges, and those who are culturally diverse, to name just a few.”
Gorman is hopeful the open house is well attended since “great food, camaraderie, live music, and a chance to connect with old friends and make new ones” is possible.
“The more we understand what makes each of us unique, the more likely that we’ll embrace our differences,” said Gorman. “National unity begins at the local level.”
For more information, contact Gorman or Niedzielski at (413) 562-6435.