The Howell Senior Center: More than a meeting place

The front entrance to Howell Senior Center. (Photo by Mark Bator)

HOWELL – It’s widely believed that many cultures tend to treat older people with a lot more respect than countries like the United States when it comes to the older population. Other cultures are taught to revere their elders as they are seen not only as a link to past traditions but also assuming that younger generations can learn from them.

As the United States population ages, it places an enormous financial drain on the nation’s resources, especially when seniors are frail or disabled. But many seniors are still full of vitality and want to enjoy their golden years not only with their families but also with their peers.

That is the goal of the Howell Senior Center, whose mission statement is “To provide Howell residents 60 years and older and their caregivers with programs and services that promote safety, promote healthy living and improve the quality of life.”

The senior center maintains a small fleet of shuttles. (Photo by Mark Bator)

Howell’s interest in the welfare of its elderly population has its roots in the Howell Senior Citizens Club, formed in 1972. Over the next 12 years, more interest and financial support came from the community and the state of New Jersey, and in 1984 the club’s expanded senior center began. Construction of the current building was completed in 1985 and has served the citizens of Howell ever since.

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To join the Senior Center, members must be 60 years of age, meet a certain competency level, and pay taxes to the Howell Parish. According to information quoted on censusreporter.orgapproximately 22 percent of Howell’s population is age 60 or older, representing more than 11,000 community residents.

The center is led by Melanie Decker, who has been the director for almost eight years. Decker, who has a BA in Psychology from Stockton University and a Masters of Arts from the College of New Jersey, is also a National Certified Counselor, a Licensed Professional Counselor, and an Approved Clinical Supervisor.

“I grew up in Howell and came here when I was in elementary school,” says Decker of her early interaction with the senior center. “Well, it brought me back to my youth when the senior center would go to events at the schools or have an event here with the schools.”

The center offers a variety of services to its members, including advice on legal, financial, health and even personal matters. In addition, they offer housing and educational information, lectures, recreational and exercise programs, arts and crafts, volunteer activities, and even a small library.

“I continue to look for services that we lack or that members need so that we can provide them when needed,” Decker explains. “An example of this would be having a hairdresser here once a month. I found that members had difficulty getting a haircut or paid more money for shipping than for the haircut itself.”

When members need assistance negotiating the difficulties of local, county, or state programs that may be available to them, senior center staff can often assist and guide them to the right office space or through cyberspace.

But the center isn’t just a problem-solving resource or a gathering of seniors drinking coffee and reminiscing about old times. While the center offers help to seniors to obtain COVID vaccinations or boosters, it also helps its members with computers and offers blood pressure checks.

Director Melanie Decker searches for supplies in one of the senior center’s pantries. (Photo by Mark Bator)

Of course, healthy living is constantly emphasized, and in addition to the recent boxing class, the center offers Tai Chi classes, a bi-weekly exercise class, meditation classes, and even a hiking club.

“We’re always trying to improve and find new and exciting adventures for the center and our members,” says Decker. “We strive to offer a variety of different trips, events and activities so that we can meet the diverse needs and desires of our members. Having seniors aged sixty and over, we know we need to entertain and make everyone happy. However, we try our best to offer something for everyone.”

The senior center has a small fleet of shuttle buses that can take members to various field trips. Many of the planned outings are booked with providers six months in advance, but members are not notified of future outings until the senior center is ready to announce them. While the center has its own monthly newsletter, known as the “Senior Gazette,” to announce future events, many of the trips and new programs are kept secret because, as Decker explains, “it always comes as a surprise to members what to do.” learn it’s progressing.”

In July alone, the center had scheduled trips to the Columbus flea market, the Bell Works location in Holmdel, Cruz Farms in Howell, the Point Pleasant Boardwalk, and even a boat ride on Manasquan Reservoir. A visit to Jersey Freeze Ice Cream is planned for later in the month.

Of course, the senior center also offers larger events, such as next month’s trip to Medieval Times in Bergen County.

But part of the senior center’s simple charm lies in the day-to-day interactions the staff have with members.

The multi-purpose room has a pool table used for senior center tournaments. (Photo by Mark Bator)

“My staff and I always feel lucky to work at the center and with our seniors,” says Decker. “We offer them opportunities that some might not have without us. I see the center as a home away from home and I am pleased that our members feel the same way. I love knowing that my co-workers and I help create an environment that fosters love, friendship, respect and laughter.”

Members even had the opportunity to participate in pool tournaments and “Senior Senior Proms” coordinated by the center. In addition, the center works with other agencies and departments around the city to coordinate events, including police and fire departments, local schools, the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Alliance and even the Howell PAL

“I’ve always felt it was a great honor to work for the Howell community and to serve our community, especially our seniors,” said Decker. “I was hired as Director of Senior Services in November 2014 and have loved every minute of it. I’ve enjoyed all the jobs I’ve worked in, but this is by far my favorite.”

The Howell Senior Center is located at 251 Preventorium Road in Howell and those interested can call (732) 938-3950 ext. 2550.

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