The Woodbury Senior Community Center, located in what was recently named by Reader's Digest as the most charming small town in Connecticut, serves residents 60+ with programs and services and anyone of any age who needs resources, information, or advocacy on aging-related issues. 

"We’ve worked hard to create programs for the younger members as well as those in their 90s," said Loryn Ray, MPH, Director of the Town of Woodbury Department of Senior Services. "Most of our members are local, but a few drive from an hour away to take part in some programs."

What is the history of the Woodbury Senior Community Center?

For almost 30 years the center was located in a small farmhouse off Main Street.

"There was just one room for all purposes and parking for five cars," Ray said. "Mostly it served as a place for retirees to have lunch and play cards."

In 2007, a new, 10,000 square feet building opened in the middle of town.

We relocated the department offices, and have been building a bustling center of activity and outreach ever since," Ray said. "Building connections and community is our focus."

What goes on at Woodbury Senior Community Center?

Ray says the center offers a warm welcome to everyone and a changing menu of program options along with services that are always in place.

"We try to be creative and dynamic; repurposing spaces to meet new interests and needs, meeting with seniors to get feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and being willing to take a risk on a new idea or program," she said. One example is the NISC Program of Excellence Creative Maker space that now occupies what once was the Computer Access Lab. In the space, participants can learn not only basic computer skills, but also digital design. They can complete creative projects on the center's Glowforge and Cricut machines.

"Rather than pursue traditional intergenerational programs we created the Woodbury Ukulele Band, which gathered dozens of people age 6 – 92 to play ukuleles together," Ray said.

multigenerational ukulele band

The center's congregate lunch programs is a partnership with their local Title III nutrition provider and a local restaurant, so diners receive fresh local produce and meals prepared by the restaurant staff in small batches. 

The center's variety of programming is a diect result of community parnterships. Consider the special "take out" meals offered thanks to the center partnering with local school culinary programs.

"When seniors pull up to receive their meal, student musicians are doing sidewalk serenades, the horticulture classes are handing out flowers and everyone has a good time," Ray said. Working with the CT Healthy Aging Collaborative and the Age Well Collective, the center hosts evidence-based programs and is part of the the LGBTQ+ Moveable Senior Center, which offers targeted programs for those who identify and their allies.

"A local professional modern dance company offers a dynamic balance class that is very popular—and effective," Ray said. "We are truly member-driven in that participant input and feedback has a direct input on what we offer, and we always have a free cup of coffee and a warm welcome. 

What's next for the Woodbury Senior Community Center?

"In the next few years I see us reaching out beyond our own walls more to offer programming in the home, in the community and pop-up events to introduce us to the larger community at local festivals and events," Ray said.

More and more, seniors are active and a valued part of any liveable community, and we need to adapt and serve the needs and find the opportunities as they arise.

Transportation is an ongoing need, especially because the town of Woodbury has no community transit. Tthe center is working on collaborating with other towns to expand options.

What does modernization mean to the Woodbury Senior Community Center?

To the Woodbury Senior Community Center, modernizing senior centers means letting go of old ways of thinking while honoring time-held traditions that still serve.

"Yes, we offer bingo and celebrate birthdays, but we are also doing pop up events at our local senior subsidized housing area, and teaching people to reenergize their technology and creative skills through the creation of beautiful items and décor," Ray said. "Congregate lunches now are prepared by a local chef and are served in a pleasant café style. Seated workouts have their place, but so do hiking clubs and adventure classes. What senior centers do so well is to really SEE their constituents, and as our culture changes, centers that survive and thrive will change as well."

Still not a member of the National Institute for Senior Centers? Join today, membership is free. 

If your center has completed a recent study or assessment or is trying out some new programming approaches, we’d love to hear about it. And if you haven't already, we'd encourage you to join the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Free to all senior centers (and their personnel), NISC supports senior centers with best practices and innovations in programming, as well as networking and training opportunities. Ask for help, leverage NISC resources, or share your successes like the Woodbury Senior Community Center. Find out how you can become a NISC Affiliate today. 

Photos courtesy Woodbury Senior Community Center