By EKATERINE TCHELIDZE
Chronicle Staff Writer
COLUMBIA â€” The Beckish Senior Center celebrated a new beginning â€” the start of senior transportation services â€” with applause, friendly smiles and hugs.
The senior center received its first, long-awaited senior van in December and hosted a special celebration Thursday that was well-attended.
â€śWe started this van, like, 20 years ago,â€ť said former state senator and Columbia resident Edith Prague. â€śWell, hurray, hurray, hurray â€” Columbia has a van,â€ť she told a crowd of about 75 people, who cheered in response.
â€śThe next thing we need is the senior housing.â€ť
According to Maggie Ewald, a member of Columbiaâ€™s Commission on Aging, who was one of the people who worked to get the van, compared to all the surrounding towns, Columbia has the highest population of older adults.
Columbia was also one of a few towns in the area that didnâ€™t have senior center transportation until now.
â€śIt was long overdue,â€ť Ewald said.
Town Historian Ingrid Wood said Columbia is an attractive town to retire in, which makes the older population grow significantly.
Having a senior van in town gives â€śa really wonderful opportunity for Columbia seniors to come together over a phenomenal resource that they have.â€ť
Director of Senior Services Bernadette Derring said about 370 seniors use the senior center and not having a transportation system was tough.
Previously, Columbia utilized Windham Region Transit District services, which didnâ€™t always work.
Now, local transportation services will accommodate all Columbia seniors and disabled adults, Derring said.
â€śMany seniors 65 years of age and older do not drive. This makes their need for transportation an even bigger necessity,â€ť she said. â€śThe center is now a place where you can find your every need, including a bright warm smile.â€ť
In fact, according to Wood, the Beckish Senior Center is more than just a senior center.
â€śItâ€™s the townâ€™s cultural center,â€ť she said. â€śItâ€™s a new start for Columbia.â€ť
Many local seniors who come to the center on a regular basis showed their excitement and gratitude during the celebration, because the van will not only bring them to important appointments, but it will get them out of the house, contributing to their social life.
â€śI think itâ€™s so important because it will bring people together and get them out of their homes to actually spend time with other people and not feel so isolated,â€ť said resident Sheran Smith, president of the Columbia Senior Organization.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who attended the celebration, said she was happy to support the grants that allowed the purchase of the van, which is important for the town and its seniors.
Columbia received a state grant of $48,000 to pay for a $61,721 van and the remaining funds were built into the budget.
â€śItâ€™s been a long time coming,â€ť said former first selectman Carmen Vance. â€śItâ€™s a great addition for the town.â€ť
Current First Selectman Steven Everett reminded residents there are rules to using the van and the center and seniors should work together to maintain those rules.
â€śWe are just getting started and we want to increase our ridership and look forward to providing as much good services,â€ť said senior van driver Bob Raiola.
Raiola has already driven the van and said it runs nicely.
He said he is looking forward to meeting new people and driving them around.
Raoila is CPR, AED and first aid certified.
Columbiaâ€™s per-diem driver will be Sherry Major and Margaret Verizzi, current program assistant, will be the transportation services dispatcher.
The van runs Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information about the senior center or the transportation program, visit the senior center at 188 Route 66, call 860-228-0759 or email at email@example.com.