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Dennis Center for Active Living opens doors to town's seniors

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Patrick Flanary
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The Dennis Center for Active Living wing of the Dennis Senior Center opens Tuesday.

The Town of Dennis unveils the new wing to its senior center.

For 40 years the Dennis Senior Center has provided seniors a place to meet, socialize, and get help with health services.

And then COVID happened. It created what the AARP called an epidemic of loneliness.

The town's Council on Aging hopes to reverse this with its $6 million expansion to the public building on Route-134. It has doubled in size during the last two years of construction, with the new Dennis Center for Active Living wing offering exercise studios, offices and a bakery.

CAI's Patrick Flanary spoke with Dennis Council on Aging and Senior Center Director Brenda Vazquez on Morning Edition.

Patrick Flanary: More seniors live on the Cape than anywhere in Massachusetts. Five thousand live in Dennis. What's the pandemic effect been on seniors, and what will this opening mean for them?

Brenda Vazquez: Over 40 percent of the Cape's population is an over-65 population, and so we're looking at major challenges that COVID has amplified: the lack of mobility, of transportation, access to essential services like food and medical care. These amplifications helped us to mobilize resources to address those needs, including getting things to homebound individuals. All of this came to the forefront during COVID.

PF: And one of those problems exacerbated by the pandemic is what the AARP referred to as an "epidemic of loneliness" for seniors. So I would imagine a senior center would be the perfect antidote to something like that.

BV: Loneliness can be more detrimental to health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And there's a difference between being alone and being lonely. And senior centers meet that need for community.

PF: Has the perspective changed for some seniors during the pandemic about getting together in groups?

BV: I think in Dennis, it's a very social community. They're asking, "When is it going to be open?" I think folks are ready to get back in. We were just feeling a little bit shaken by the fact that, gosh, we better open this place soon because it's going to become a public outcry.

PF: It's been a bit of a wait, hasn't it?

BV: It has. It'll be four years since I arrived. We started construction right before COVID, and here we are.

PF: Once the ribbon is cut, what can seniors expect on Day One?

BV: The Dennis Center for Active Living at the Senior Center — the café, the fitness studios, the ballroom, the new kitchen, our new dining program — all of this will be happening in the new wing. We really want to make this a hub of top-shelf programming. That's the vision: a thriving hub of activity where folks come in and meet their friends for lunch, take a class, get some exercise.

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Patrick Flanary

PF: What's the new wing's capacity, and what's the process for seniors who want to drop by?

BV: We have anywhere from 100 to 200 people in the senior center on a given day. So folks really have accessibility and are not having to travel to handle their social security or Medicare. They can come to one spot and get it all. We're hoping to create that one-stop-shop, and make this place as welcoming as possible to all.

PF: The senior center has come full-circle in 40 years. It started with a handful of retirees who raised money at yard sales and car washes and built it themselves. What would they say today?

BV: You're referring to the Friends of Dennis Senior Citizens. This group is amazing. They were a group of citizens that wanted a center where they could socialize, play cards, meet. They gifted the building to the town, and the town took it on and staffed it, and here we are today. A senior center should reflect what the community is and what its interests are.