PEPPERELL — Following the departure of Bethany Loveless from her position at the Pepperell Senior Center, Susan McCarthy has taken on the role of activity coordinator.
McCarthy was appointed by the Board of Selectmen on Nov. 7; still, although she has just begun in the new position, McCarthy has long been a recognized face by the seniors who frequent the Senior Center. She has been volunteering her time at the senior center for a year, often spending 10 to 15 hours a week helping set up for the activities and assisting in the Alzheimer’s disease support groups.
“I always wanted to do this and now I have the chance to do it,” said McCarthy.
Prior to her position at the Senior Center, McCarthy had a 22-year career as a dental assistant. She recalls that even in her career in dentistry, she always enjoyed working with adult and senior patients.
“I love working with seniors,” said McCarthy. “It’s a passion. It’s something that’s been inside me my entire life. As a child, I was always closer with my grandparents. Every position I’ve been in, I’ve always just been drawn to seniors.”
McCarthy attributes her transition from her dental career to her work at the Senior Center to her husband Mark, who encouraged her to pursue something she felt passionately about.
“He just said, ‘Susan, it’s time to stop and do something you love.’ Then I called here and asked if I could volunteer,” said McCarthy. “He’s a big part of why I had the chance to do what I love to do.”
Although it’s only been a week, McCarthy has already begun developing ideas to incorporate into the activities programs at the Senior Center. First and foremost, she took the reins of a project idea that Loveless had come up with but hadn’t had the chance to enact before she left: the tree of remembrance. Taking a sapling-sized tree limb and erecting it in the main hall of the building, McCarthy has been encouraging seniors to create leaf-like ornaments to adorn the branches, with each ornament representing a person or fond memory from their lives, with photographs and words of affection posted on each.
“Anybody that wants to remember someone that has passed away — a husband, friend, family member — can make one to hang up,” said McCarthy.
Some are more sentimental than others, but each has a strong representation to the creator.
“Another guy loved coffee and wanted to make a coffee mug,” she said.
McCarthy, who has also been singing with her church for 11 years, also hopes to bring more music into the center, from musical programs to incorporating background music into the arts and fitness classes.
“Music has a way of bringing out things in people,” she said. “It can change somebody’s mood. It changes how you look at things, even art class even. It bring out things that aren’t always there when you’re just sitting.”
Director Marcia Zaniboni said she looked forward to the new and unique perspective that McCarthy would be bring to the position. She plans to utilize McCarthy’s background and interest in music and art to add to the activities programs.
“Whenever I hire a new employee, I don’t try to duplicate the previous person. I look at their strengths and try to work with those strengths,” she said.
Zaniboni describes McCarthy as upbeat and compassionate and said she has a natural ability to relate to the seniors.
“I really do think that she’s going to be able to bring to me ideas she’s getting from the seniors of what they want. I think she has that ability to process what she’s hearing and translate it,” she said.
On the subject of change, Zaniboni added that although it could sometimes be difficult for some people to adjust to, it was an integral part of the territory working at the senior center.
“We’re constantly changing here based on the needs of the people coming in,” said Zaniboni. “I’ve been working with seniors for 30-something years and what I do today is not what I was doing 30 years ago. I’m always open to change and what the needs are.”