It was unanimous – the Marion Board of Selectmen thinks Karen Gregory, interim director at the Marion Council on Aging, is the perfect candidate for the permanent position of COA director and hired her for the position on January 8 during a special meeting.
“I want to personally thank you on behalf of the town for doing a great job stepping up,” said Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson. “You haven’t missed a beat, and you’ve done a great job.”
Gregory accepted the temporary position of interim COA director upon the resignation of former COA Director Heather Sylvia back in October after nearly two years as director.
Gregory had already been employed by the Marion Council on Aging for three years assisting with program development, after having had experience as assistant of programming in a senior assisted living facility, and then later as the COA director in the Town of Carver for five years.
“I’ve been with Marion going on three years, and I have enjoyed my time here,” said Gregory. She assisted in developing the senior programming at the Marion Music Hall before the opening of the senior/community center last summer. Some of the programs she helped establish include the Memory Café, “…Which has been very successful and has meant a lot to us,” said Gregory, who is pleased that the programs she helped create have led to participants forming new friendships outside the center and in the community.
Gregory’s background was in marketing, but she lost interest in her corporate career and found fulfillment working with seniors, bringing with her relevant experience in management and also budgeting, which Gregory just tackled for the first time as interim COA director heading into fiscal year 2019.
Selectman Steve Gonsalves said he has heard nothing but praise for Gregory from the community.
“It’s obvious that you have a love and passion for this,” said Gonsalves.
Gregory said her vision for the Marion COA and the senior/community center is further expansion into evening and weekend programming, and to also reach out to younger seniors in the community to join in COA events.
Gregory says seniors should feel comfortable approaching her for assistance.
“I don’t judge,” she said. “I’m just there to listen. They know that they can get the answers that they need, and if I don’t have them, then I will go get them for them.”
The new COA director also envisions uniting the young and old in activities that will facilitate intergenerational interaction, such as seniors reading to students at schools among other special events.
Communication being a vital aspect to the job, Selectman Norm Hills asked Gregory, in this day and age of technology, what has she found to be the most effective way to maintain communication with seniors who may be unfamiliar with email and the Internet.
“They still love to get the newsletter mailed to them,” said Gregory, and there is nothing like the traditional phone call to contact her clients.
The Facebook page for the Marion COA is still vital, said Gregory, although most of the seniors do not engage in social media. It serves to keep family members of seniors at the center, both near and far, aware of what is happening at the COA.
Some of the challenges Gregory will face on behalf of the COA, she said, include minimal staffing and a tight budget, which require a creative approach to funding and facilitating new programs. And some of the seniors in town aren’t as advantaged as one might think in a town like Marion, Gregory said, and face financial challenges and need resources.
Expanding transportation is essential, said Gregory, but currently senior transportation is running smoothly, with two full-time drivers and one part-time driver and employee of the Recreation Department. However, in order to expand programming into evenings and weekends, more hours for drivers are needed.
The majority of seniors served by the COA are female, said Gregory, and she hopes to reach out to the male seniors in the community by offering programs such as “Coffee with the Chief” and Ping-Pong lessons, and informing them of other amenities offered at the center like the pool table. Another idea was a regularly scheduled dinner for veterans.
“Very impressive,” Gonsalves said to Gregory as the interview concluded.
But if we could just do something about the food…
Gregory acknowledged that the current food provider has not been as palatable to people as one would hope, but as the contract nears its end, the COA will explore its options and switch food service providers if necessary.
Gregory was singled out as one of two final candidates for the position. The other finalist withdrew her application only just recently, however, so Gregory was the only candidate interviewed on Monday.
After the interview, Dickerson turned to the two other selectmen and asked, “Do we want to look for other candidates?”
“No,” Gonsalves promptly stated.
“I personally think Karen would be a great candidate,” said Town Administrator Paul Dawson. “She’s done an outstanding job … [The seniors] love her.”
Well, that settles it, said Dickerson, lest the seniors march into Town Hall wielding canes.
Gregory will be officially hired pending contract negotiations.
The next regular meeting of the Marion Board is scheduled for January 16 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry