By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Stein Senior Center on East 23rd Street last Friday played host to a delegation from Thailand, led by Naraporn Chan-ocha, the wife of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. The group was there to learn about what makes the center operate successfully and members of the delegation noted that what was most impressive about Stein, and differentiated it from the few senior centers in Thailand, is how active the seniors were.
“The activities that they can try are impressive,” Chan-ocha, a former English professor at Chulalongkorn University, said. “They help the seniors participate and learn about social media, and they get to do dancing and singing.”
Not surprisingly, Stein Center Executive Director Jane Barry agreed.
“This is not the Bingo crowd, this isn’t the Atlantic City crowd, they’re the Shakespeare crowd,” she said. “Another one of the great programs is the opera appreciation. There are also art history and computer classes. We keep them active.”
Karin Marder, whose husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than 10 years ago, said that they wanted to find a place for him to go that wasn’t just a nursing home or adult daycare, and when they found the Stein Center, they were both relieved.
“From the minute we walked in it was a blessing to know that there was a place he could go and be engaged,” she said.
Stein Center Deputy Director Bob Doxsey said that center’s administrators were expecting about 50 people at the event on Friday, 20 or so of which would be from the Thai delegation, but Barry said that the number of members at the event wound up being lower than originally anticipated because it coincided with Pope Francis’ New York visit. Representatives from the Stein Center, as well as the Department for the Aging, were on hand to detail the support programs that the center utilizes as a guide for the delegation.
Doxsey explained that there are free programs the Stein Center utilizes for its operations that he suggested were essential if Thailand is looking to recreate the model because they enhance the experience for the seniors but don’t have any financial impact on the center.
These free programs include an intergenerational program that pairs high school students with seniors, an internship program for nurses that is a collaboration with the nursing schools and hospitals in the area, a legal program, a volunteer program and a shop and escort program to help seniors get to doctor’s appointments and run errands.
“Volunteers are the most important program,” he said. “They help with the food service, they bring their talents to us. It doesn’t cost us anything but they are a very important part of the center. The resources are out there, you just have to reach out and get them. It will help.”
Chan-ocha agreed that the volunteer program was one of the most important aspects for a successful senior center.
“We can’t afford to have permanent staff and everywhere the budget is short, so the volunteers are very important,” she said. “It also helps them feel that they are still valuable. They take care of each other.”
She noted that while there are two or three senior centers in Thailand now, she was impressed that seniors at Stein were given so many different opportunities.
“There are courses so they can keep learning and that means a lot,” she said. “Life-long learning should be encouraged.”
Chan-ocha said that she has also been researching senior centers in Korea and Japan, which also have successful senior centers, but even some of those centers are looking to Stein as a model. Representatives from Center for Social Welfare Promotion & Examination, which is part of the Ministry of Health in Japan, also paid a visit to the center this month to learn about how the center optimizes their operational strategy to maintain their programs for seniors.
Following the tour, Chan-ocha said she’d found the information, in particular about volunteers, very helpful.
“What we’re going to do now is focus on the support from the community and volunteers,” she said. “We don’t want just a big building with no spirit. The community should help take care of senior citizens.”