The Newport 60+ Activity Center has a new supervisor, and she’s no stranger to working with seniors.
Sonia Graham has lived across the country and worked as a management consultant in the financial industry after earning a Masters in Health Services Administration and an MBA. But after working in a facility for the elderly in 2012, she finally found her calling. When she saw a position opening up with Oceanview Senior Living in Newport a few years ago, she jumped at the chance and moved to the coast.
“Before that, we usually moved about every two years, just trying to find our sweet spot both professionally and physically,” Graham said. “It was the first time that we felt like we wanted to stay in the same place. We made a commitment that this is where we want to be for the rest of our lives. We love it here.
After nearly a decade working in seniors’ residences, Graham officially took over the reins of the 60-plus activity center in December. “That’s great,” she said. “I always work with older people, which I love. I was ready to change but I still work with the same people.
Graham replaces Peggy O’Callaghan, who held the position for 18 years before retiring in 2021. She said she had big shoes to fill. “Peggy has done so much for the community,” Graham said. “She’s started great programs, hikes, trips, and tons of fun stuff. She was responsible for the renovation of the center. Graham added that a “Retirement Anniversary” party for O’Callaghan will be held April 15 from 2-4 p.m., exactly one year after his actual retirement, which was postponed due to COVID restrictions.
Returning regular activities and events to the center is a priority for Graham. The center was closed for eight months due to the pandemic and has been slow to bring people back. There are currently around 700 members compared to almost 900 before COVID. Graham hopes that with the mask mandate lifted and people feeling more comfortable, more people will start coming to the centre. “We’re trying to get things back to normal and bring back the things that people loved,” she said. “But we will also try new things.”
Many regular activities, such as card games, dominoes, bridge, pool and exercise, are back on the schedule. Popular computer and photography classes are on the agenda, as well as a writers’ discussion group. Meals on Wheels will resume operations in early April and will serve meals from noon to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
But Graham also has plenty of new ideas in the works. On the second Monday of every month, people are invited to “Coffee and Conversation with Sonia” from 10-11 a.m. 60+ activity center, topical questions or topics of interest. “The 60+ center is such an integral part of the community, and we want to work closely with the community. Anyone can drop by to say hello.
Members have requested more art classes and the center is looking for volunteers to help make this happen. Volunteers don’t need to be professional artists, they just need to have a talent they want to share.
Graham wants to build an on-site recording studio so people confined to their homes can participate in classes remotely. In addition, the recording studio would be used to record senior limb oral histories. Although still in the planning stages, Graham hopes to recruit high school students to interview the elderly. “It would be such a great intergenerational activity,” she said.
Another of Graham’s goals is to lower the age requirement and change the name of the facility to 50+ Activity Center. Graham said there are many members of the community who would like to participate in the many activities offered by the center but who are not yet 60 years old. “Right now, we do it on a case-by-case basis. The city should approve this change.
Working towards accreditation through the National Institute of Senior Centers is another priority for Graham. Only about 260 senior centers in the United States are accredited. “It means that we are a serious center with high quality standards. It also helps fund grants. This center is top notch – one of the best. I’m so excited to be part of it now.
The Newport 60+ Activity Center offers many volunteer opportunities for anyone interested in teaching a class, giving a presentation, or serving on the advisory board. For more information or to participate in the program, go to www.newportoregon.gov/dept/par/sc