Among the biggest challenges in creating programming for residents ages 60 and older are first overcoming the “senior” stereotype, then identifying activities that appeal to their interests and abilities.
Kent Park and Recreation in Connecticut coordinates a monthly senior-trip program, thanks in large part to a municipal transportation grant, which makes possible free transportation via the rural transit district bus.
Travel is limited to the state’s 169 cities and towns, and the 16 passengers on the bus must be town residents. Participants pay for lunch and admission charges.
Destinations And Dining
Since the program began in fall 2006, destinations have included historical sites, like the Mark Twain House, Harriet Beecher Stowe House and Roseland Cottage; art museums, such as the Wadsworth Atheneum and New Britain Museum of American Art; interactive adventures like the Mystic and Norwalk Maritime Aquariums, Beardsley Zoo and Elizabeth Park Rose Garden.
One of the most popular trips is a December evening outing to view area holiday light displays.
Some trips feature shopping at nearby malls, outlet centers, the Ocean State Job Lot and Christmas Tree Shops, while others include train rides, boat cruises and outside dining during the summer.
Daytime trips include lunch (Olive Garden and Bertucci’s are two favorite restaurants), and no outing is complete without stopping for ice cream.
These outings have become a vehicle for more than just a bus trip. Ruth, a senior who traveled several times with us, was on a trip in fall 2007 to visit a farm market and winery. She contacted her daughter, who met us at the restaurant where we had lunch. Mother and daughter sat outside afterwards, enjoying the early fall sun and sharing conversation.
On the ride back to town, Ruth shared with me the idea of a “Mystery Trip,” where passengers don’t know the destination until the bus arrives there. She recounted how much she used to enjoy this type of trip when she lived in Maine. I promised her I would schedule such a trip the following year.
Ruth died suddenly only five days after that conversation. Shocked and saddened by the news, I suddenly realized our bus trip earlier in the week had had a new meaning. There was a foreshadowing through a series of small events and comments that were meaningless at the time. I am grateful the trip afforded one mother and daughter a last luncheon together, and I still can picture them seated side-by-side outside the restaurant, warmed by the fall sunshine.
Four months later, the seniors went on their first “Mystery Trip,” dedicated to the memory of Ruth. It was a visit to the annual Connecticut Flower Show, where the theme that February was “Once Upon A Time.”
The monthly trips aren’t just about the destination but the memories made along the way, friendships renewed, companionship provided and a few hours of fun. As I plan the monthly trips, I am mindful that the senior outings are much more than a bus leaving the town hall parking lot–we are helping to make a difference, even for a few hours, in the lives of each of our passengers.
Lesly Ferris is the park and recreation director for the town of Kent, Conn. She can be reached via e-mail at Lesly_f@kentct.org.