A year after swapping Social Day and Senior Center sites, the city of New Bedford reversed its decision, officially reopening Buttonwood Park as a traditional senior center and moving Social Day programs back to Brooklawn Park and the Rosemary Tierney Community Center.

Changes became official May 13 with a celebratory lunch held at Buttonwood Park on May 17 to welcome seniors back to the space. Those in attendance were excited to be return to a building they consider home.

Asked if she was happy to see Buttonwood reopen, Patsy Jeffries Zukowski said, “Pretty happy is a gross understatement. This is our home.”
“I think you’re going to find everybody missed it,” agreed Germaine Stephens. “It gets people together.”

A few people still felt anger at being locked out of the space when it became a COA Social Day program.
“They wouldn’t let us in before,” said Ethel Souza. “We walk around the park and this was our pit stop. And then we couldn’t even use the bathroom.”

In her remarks at the event, COA Director Pamela Amaral-Lema welcomed seniors back to Buttonwood. “We’re really happy to have you here,” she said. “We’re excited to offer services to help seniors thrive.”

Amaral-Lema ran through a list of activities that have been added to the center including Tai-Yo-Ba, chair massage, and a Single Seniors’ Club. A caregiver support group and Twilight Bingo are coming in June, she said. Cheers broke out when Amaral-Lema announced a new state-of-the-art bingo machine was also on the way.

“We are constantly evaluating our programming and listening to the feedback of those served at our centers,” said Amaral-Lema, in a media release on the changes. “The return of traditional senior center programming to Buttonwood and moving social day care services to the North and South Ends of New Bedford will result in the COA offering better services to the city’s seniors.”

Amaral-Lema had expressed her desire to add activities for older adults from the start of her role as COA director, telling Senior Scope in late 2023: “I really want to get the senior centers a little busier and add more activities geared to the active adults…Right now, my mission is to research different activities to help our adults to age in place, to stay vital in the community, to build on friendships, and to increase that socialization piece that we lost during the pandemic.”

In a May 3 video address, Mayor Jon Mitchell said the move came as an attempt to “strike the right balance” between families’ social day needs and the need for more traditional senior center programming.

“We want to make sure that our services are relevant and that they’re effective,” he said.

“We’ve had, over the years, some shifting interest in the programs that are offered,” Mitchell said. “Some seniors and their families have expressed interest in doing more social day care than in times past, whereas others still want the traditional services.”

“So what we’ve announced, based on the recommendation of the Council on Aging, is that we’re going to go to a model in which the traditional services are going to be offered out of Buttonwood Park at the Warming Center. It’s a great place. It’s a very prominent building centrally located in the city in a place that is really well-suited to doing both indoor and outdoor activities for our seniors.”

The city and Council on Aging are asking for feedback from seniors, Mitchell added.

“Our Council on Aging wants your feedback, as we do in every aspect of city government, to find out what we can do better and to continue to improve,” he said in the video address. “I encourage our seniors and their families to offer that feedback so we can incorporate it into the programming.

The COA distributed a survey at the Buttonwood opening asking people to tell them how often they visit the Senior Center and what activities they’d like to see among other questions.