Participation sought for COA focus groups

Tina Gorman, Director of the Westfield Council on Aging (File photo)

WESTFIELD-Older adults are sought for focus groups underway to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the city’s Council on Aging programs and services.

“I approached the Council on Aging (COA) board of directors several months ago because I want the department to have a strategic plan,” said Tina Gorman, executive director. “There is no firm deadline, but I am aiming for Dec. 31 so that we may begin implementing the plan in January of 2020.”

Gorman noted the importance of a strategic plan is to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, challenges, issues and threats that the department faces in the future. Once the final draft is done, she will review the details with the new mayor.

“Implementation of the plan will take place over time and in increments by the staff, with input from the COA Board,” said Gorman.

Kerry Kielbasa, who serves as vice-chairman of the board of directors, is chairing the strategic plan subcommittee that is overseeing the overall process.

“I am currently conducting SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis sessions,” said Kielbasa, who has extensive experience in the field of aging.

Kielbasa, who served on the phase 2 building committee of the Westfield Senior Center, spent more than 25 years as director of human services for the Town of Granby, Conn. She was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the senior center, including designing and building a new facility, achieving national accreditation by the National Council on Aging for the center three times, and initiating numerous programs and services to enhance the quality of life for the town’s senior citizens.

“Strategic planning is a critical element in the accreditation process,” said Kielbasa, adding she continues to serve as a National Peer Reviewer for Accreditation for the National Council on Aging.

Kielbasa explained that the information garnered from the analysis sessions will become the foundation for the plan. In recent weeks, Kielbasa has surveyed the COA staff, board members, and members of the Friends of the Westfield Senior Center. 

“In the focus groups the members are asked what the senior center does well, where improvements could be made, and suggestions for new programs and services,” said Kielbasa, adding that participants are also asked about concerns they may have about aging in the city.

“A discussion pursues and notes are taken during the session,” said Kielbasa. “Eileen Rockwal, a COA member, has been gracious enough to serve as the scribe for the sessions.”

The next focus group session at the Westfield Senior Center is slated Oct. 29 at 1 p.m. and interested older adults can contact Mary Lou Niedzielski, COA program director, at (413) 562-6435 to sign up or send an email to Kielbasa at [email protected]. A maximum of 20 to 25 adults is recommended for each gathering.

“I can add other focus groups if the interest is out there,” said Kielbasa.

Strengths of the department determined by focus group participants to date include an “excellent staff,” “great food,” “great programs,” and a “police safety office.” Weaknesses cited by participants have included “limited evening hours,” “registration process for classes,” and “transportation to the center.”

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