First Selectman Fred Camillo proclaimed Wednesday, April 21 as the official Patricia Burns Day in Greenwich as the Greenwich Commission on Aging and the Senior Center honored her retirement after 9 years as the Board Chair of the Greenwich Commission on Aging. In a small in-person gathering at the Senior Center, 299 Greenwich Avenue, board members and staff gathered to pay homage to her dedication, leadership and perseverance.
Patricia has a history of voluntarism through her membership in the Junior League of Greenwich and other towns throughout her life. She has chaired events for the Red Cross, Breast Cancer Alliance, Sole Sisters for United Way, and was the President of The Woodhall School Board. Patricia also sat on the Board of Nathaniel Witherell. She attended the Brearly School in New York City, and New York University.
Patricia began her three term role as Board Chair along with Lori Contadino, the Director of the Greenwich Commission on Aging. Together, they have recruited an engaged, hard-working Board. “Every board member has a portfolio they are responsible for,” Patricia proudly says. Together, Patricia and Lori also redefined the Commission, and made the decisions needed to move forward with the future of the Senior Center. “We originally thought we would have to move and build a new facility, but after much location and soul searching, we made the decision to remain at 299 on the Ave.,” Patricia said. The rejuvenation of the building is a public/private partnership. “We are looking for $750K to be able to finish our work there. We have naming opportunities if someone wants to honor an older loved one.”
Originally built in the 1800’s, this magnificent Beaux-Arts building was previously Town Hall, donated to the town in 1904 by Robert Moffat Bruce and his sister, Sarah. Unfortunately, no architectural plans exist. “We don’t know what we will find when we open it up,” she said nervously. “We know there’s asbestos and we’re not sure which walls are structural.” But Patricia remains undaunted. “We’re awarding the bid next week. We’ve done the electrical upgrade and a new commercial kitchen will go on the lower level, leaving more room for a cafe and dining area upstairs, opening in Fall of 2022. We have the design in place. It’s going to be a ‘wow’ when you walk in the door. It will be energetic, young and fresh.”
Under the Greenwich Commission on Aging, the Greenwich Senior Center serves a hot $5.00 lunch every weekday, prepared by a chef on premise, during normal times. Older adult malnutrition is an ongoing problem and Greenwich has a surprisingly large percentage of older adults who are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to adequate food. During the pandemic, they started a drive-thru hot lunch pick-up program for members, a $5.00 hot meal every week that includes a main course, sides, beverages and dessert. “Chief Heavey and the police help us hand out lunches in front of 299 on the Ave. The bicycle cops have adopted us.”
When the pandemic hit, Patricia, Lori and the small Senior Center staff pivoted on a dime. “We were the first to shut down and we’ll be the last to re-open.” They went to virtual, teaming with Jen Donalley at Greenwich Country Day School, using their virtual platform to stream live classes, lectures and entertainment 5 days a week. “I think that is here to stay because it’s an option that older adults need.”
Along with Patricia’s Vice Chair, Steve Katz, Patricia and Lori helped the application process for Age and Dementia Friendly Greenwich. “We are in the ‘Action Phase,’ making sure all the requirements are met. As soon as we are approved, we will be the first town in Connecticut to be designated Age and Dementia Friendly by the World Health Organization and AARP.”
With everything Patricia has helped to put in motion, the best part, she says, is “seeing the look on the seniors’ faces, especially at holiday and dance parties, when they get to see people. We have made life in Greenwich for older people more fun with events all year round. They sell out within hours. The community, including the First Selectman, firemen, police, comes out to help serve food. The small but mighty staff rises to every occasion. They come through with everything that’s thrown at them. I’m going to miss them.”