Something is always happening at Castleton Community Seniors! This vibrant program offers an array of education, recreation, communication, health and social opportunities. Shaw’s supports this nonprofit through the GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program.
Tell us about Castleton Community Seniors.
Our mission is to enrich the lives of residents of the greater Castleton, Vermont, area, particularly seniors, by providing education, recreation, communication, health and social opportunities.
Castleton Community Seniors started in September 1995. A group of seniors met in one of the local churches and said, “There is a real need in the area for an official site dedicated to seniors.” At this time, a large Greek revival-style house called the Old Homestead was up for sale. In December 1995, through the generosity of the Alma Gibbs Donchian Foundation, the house was donated to the Town of Castleton to be used as a senior center. The town then conveyed the property to the newly formed Castleton Community Seniors. By January 1998, the first board meeting happened, and on February 4th of that year, the first senior meal was held in that building, which is now the Castleton Community Center.
The most wonderful thing about having this beautiful Greek revival home is that people come here for the first time and comment on how homey it feels. It is not just another institutional building; it is a place for seniors to come and feel at home.
February 4th, 2023, marks the 25th year since our first senior meal was hosted in this beautiful home.
What services do you provide to the community?
Castleton Community Seniors provides three significant programs: a transportation program for seniors and disabled members of the community, a senior meal program served in our dining room and a wellness program with classes on-site. It is often said that our wellness program is an umbrella that includes transportation, exercise and senior meals. Wellness is not just exercise; it’s good nutrition and planned programs, but if someone can’t get here to participate, what good is that?
The transportation program is by donation only and is so intertwined with the success of our other programs. One critical component is that these rides pick up and drop off door to door. If someone is in a wheelchair, they don’t have to worry about getting to a specific bus stop; our program comes right to their door. This past year we provided 1,413 rides for doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, wellness classes, senior meals and food shopping.
Our senior meal program provides congregate dining two days a week in the dining room, and meals are also by donation only. Last year we served 1,321 meals at the Center and helped to deliver 3,600 home-delivered meals with the Meals on Wheels program. A dedicated all-volunteer team does the meal delivery services.
The wellness center is located right here on-site in a beautiful barn that we were able to renovate. Before the renovation, this space was only utilized for storage. We required more space due to the growth of our wellness classes, and we knew the barn would be the perfect place. We renovated the barn into our wellness center with community-raised funds and borrowed capital. Now, the center provides a full robust schedule of classes such as osteoporosis prevention, Tai Chi for arthritis or diabetes, line dancing and balance and fall-prevention classes. We are open to any of our member’s input regarding the classes we offer.
What sets Castleton Community Seniors apart from other nonprofits in your community?
Focusing on wellness as an overarching approach to everything we do sets us apart. Transportation, nutrition, meals and exercise all stem from wellness experiences. We feel that physical, social and emotional well-being is essential for a population that either lives alone or feels they can’t get out. Striving to get our members here is a goal of ours. We want to help create a quality of life for seniors that allows them to stay at home and be independent as long as possible.
Something really special we created on the four acres the Center owns is a beautiful walking trail. It’s an excellent way for seniors to get out into the fresh air for exercise. The trail is unique because we made sure it had a packed surface that was wheelchair accessible. People with walkers or canes who otherwise wouldn’t be able to walk an outdoor trail now have the ability to do so.
Our program director does a walking challenge every year with our members. The goal is to reach a particular destination by walking the trail. The seniors will walk the path and record their distance. The first year the goal was to walk to Miami Beach and back. This year they are walking to Las Vegas, and at this point in the year, they are on their way back. It creates a fun little incentive for everyone.
We want to help create a quality of life for seniors that allows them to stay at home and be independent as long as possible.
Tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.
Here is a message we got in an email from a member during the pandemic.
The member wrote, “Before the pandemic occurred, the Castleton Community Center was something to look forward to each week. Getting together for projects, learning Tai Chi, meeting new people and seeing old friends. Totally enjoyable and worthwhile. During the pandemic, it has been a lifeline. It meant that three times a week, I was able to be in a Zoom class where I could see and talk to friends and also continue with my Tai Chi class. They also supplied meals to go on special occasions that we were able to pick up. I’ll never forget the community center workers standing outside in the freezing cold, distributing those meals as the cars drove by. Now that we’re back to having in-person classes, I have a greater appreciation of the community center and the people who do such great work there. They do so much for us.”
Another instance came when I was having lunch in the dining room. A member went out of their vocal group to speak to me; she said, “I want you to know how valued this place is in the community. We are so lucky to have it here. Some people that come to our vocal group can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but they love coming, singing and feeling so welcome.”
Receiving letters and comments like this make it all so worthwhile. We are only a staff of two, so we are very grateful for all our member volunteers. Almost all our programs are member-initiated and run. Someone can come to us with a skill or an interest, and if they are willing to run the program, then we are happy to have them do it. This is truly a rewarding place to be.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
One of our most outstanding achievements was that we could still provide programs and services during the pandemic. We adopted the congregate meals as a successful grab-and-go service, and our exercise classes were offered on Zoom or video recordings. Some of our older members who aren’t comfortable with computers could participate in the recorded classes because we had them air on our local PEG TV station. They could turn their TV on from the comfort of their homes and be a part of the program with us.
Once restrictions loosened, we started lunch on the lawn, where people could come and spread out with a lawn chair and enjoy a bag lunch with each other. Fortunately, we have a substantial property because it was very popular; our first lunch on the lawn hosted 90 people. It was an incredible connection of people playing music and enjoying themselves. We are so proud of the fact that we were able to adapt our programs and be flexible enough that we could continue to operate during the pandemic.
What do you want people to know about Castleton Community Seniors?
We strive to create an environment of acceptance and caring. When people come here, they feel welcome and valued and have a good time. We just learned about a 600-person survey on what senior meal participants thought was the essential part of congregate meals. The overall response was that individuals valued the importance of the friendly, welcoming atmosphere these meals create.
To add to our welcoming environment, we have started providing name tags for members to wear; this way, new people feel more comfortable getting to know everyone else’s names. We work hard for that atmosphere of acceptance, caring and belonging.
We strive to create an environment of acceptance and caring. When people come here, they feel welcome and valued and have a good time.
How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?
Some funds will be used this Friday for the first indoor game day since Covid. Game days usually consist of 30 to 40 seniors and a group of Castleton University students. This makes for great intergenerational activity and interaction. The students come and play games and get surprised at how much these seniors can do. I have seen seniors in their 90’s beat students at videos like Wii bowling. It’s lovely to see these students come and realize how sharp our seniors are and how much these folks can do. I have yet to find a student who can beat our Scrabble Champion!
On game days, we provide a free lunch, which will be finger sandwiches from Shaw’s for this event. We are so grateful that some Give Back Bag funds will provide meals to our seniors and students while they interact and play games. And we put up a nice sign that says, “Today’s Meal is courtesy of Shaw’s”.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Thank you to Shaw’s for doing the Give Back Bag Program for the community. It does help to provide programs at no expense to seniors who might be living on a fixed income. We are so grateful for the outreach and enthusiasm that this program creates for the Castleton Community Seniors!