She’s the bringer of belly dancing classes and bingo, the kindler of knitting groups and the arbiter of art lectures, the maker of musical melodies, the link to legal advice and the harbinger of historical talks.

Most of all, she’s been the helper, the listener, the supporter and the friend to all who attend Darien’s Mather Center for senior programming.

But now, after nine years as the program specialist at the center, Marcella “Marcy” Rand has said goodbye.

Rand recently announced she was taking a position in New Canaan’s Human Services Department, specializing in adult and senior outreach. But though she’s left the senior center, Rand is still very much woven into the fabric of the Darien community.

Rand, who lives in Darien with her husband, Vic Capellupo, is raising her children, now fifth generation Darien residents, here as well — Parker, 24, Kip, 21, and Marnie, 13, who is a rising freshman at Darien High School.

As to why Rand focuses on working with seniors, she credits the strong bond she had growing up with her grandparents — both in Darien and her mother’s parents in nearby Westport.

“My grandparents were always around — they were my buddies. I can’t tell you all the fun weekends I had with my grandparents. Ever since I was a kid, I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Rand said.

She was particularly moved when visiting her grandmother who was recovering from surgery at Waveny.

“I saw such a need for human contact with seniors. That’s when I started grad school for social work and focused on geriatrics,” Rand said.

Senior programming

While Rand has been in Darien, the programming at the Mather Center for seniors is vast and varied. There are holiday parties for Christmas and Valentine’s Day, as well as a celebrated St. Patrick’s Day party complete with Irish dancers and corned beef and cabbage.

There are fitness programs including yoga, pilates, ballet, aerobics, dance and strength exercises, and yes, belly dancing. There are cultural events like ‘Read and tell’ literature, and musical performances that range from oldies classics, to big band, to children’s choruses. There are historical lectures. There are also health talks from visiting nurses, pharmacies and medical experts. Seniors can ask a lawyer questions and consult a tax adviser. And there are so many more. Suffice to say, seniors are unlikely to get bored, and Rand says they make great friendships along the way.

And that’s important. Rand says that seniors, like anyone at any age, need a healthy connection to peers.

“Seniors are capable of becoming socially isolated. The most fufilling thing is to get seniors the services they need for a healthy aging at home life, and getting them in touch with other seniors,” she said.

Pandemic response

The Darien Senior Center staff, along with the Department of Human Services and Town Hall staff, sprang into action quickly when the town basically shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was clear that the seniors were among the most vulnerable populations in terms of the virus. Arrangements had to be made to help get seniors support, groceries, and many relied on the senior center daily lunches.

Working with Corbin Cares, seniors were able to obtain a drive-thru lunch program provided by Darien’s restaurants, also hard hit from the pandemic. Rand and Darien Human Services director Ali Ramsteck also worked with Palmer’s Market to arrange for shoppers to get groceries for seniors and have them delivered. Eventually, those deliveries were made by emergency responders.

Throughout the pandemic, Rand continues to call seniors at home to check on their well-being. She was glad to see many of them relied virtually on the relationships they had made at the center.

“If it wasn’t for the center, and the friendships they made there, you don’t know how alone they would be,” Rand said.

“When I did wellness checks, they were often playing bingo with someone over the phone or doing Zoom Mahjong games. These relationships made them resilient,” she said.

Value of seniors

Rand said that anyone who thinks that seniors might be behind the times is wrong.

“Seniors are just as current as anyone else. And their life experiences actually make them know more,” she said.

Rand said often, as her friendships grew with the seniors, she’d share a parenting experience she would be struggling with and they’d offer perspective.

“It’s amazing to listen to their insight and parenting tips. They’d say, ‘Why are you worrying so much about that? It could be much worse,’” she said.

“They provide so much perspective that many young people can’t provide. I’m sorry more younger people don’t have relationships with seniors like that,” she said.

What she’ll miss

“I think I’ll miss the daily routine most of all. I loved seeing the seniors daily. They knew if I was going on vacation. They even knew what I was making for dinner and the next day they’d ask me how it turned out,” she said.

“I really consider them friends. I’ll miss that daily human contact,” she said.

Rand added that the Town Hall staff was the best and it was “a joy to work for Town Hall.” In particular, Rand spoke highly of Ramsteck, with whom she worked frequently at the Department of Human Services.

Impact

In speaking with The Darien Times, Ramsteck made it clear the admiration is mutual.

“Marcy has been a true treasure to the Town of Darien over the past nine years. Her heart and soul has gone into caring for our seniors. She was a tremendous help to the Human Services department during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were short-staffed,” Ramsteck said.

“She was a true team player and jumped right in to help Darien seniors however possible during this crisis. I wish her well on her new endeavor. New Canaan is lucky to have her,” she said.

Long-time resident and frequent senior center volunteer Ray Slavin echoed Ramsteck’s comments.

“As you know, the Mather Center plays a major role in the lives of many many Darien seniors, and the loss of Marcy is highly significant. Marcy had an outstanding ability to relate to our seniors,” Slavin said.

“Her very presence was critical to their needs, and her role in organizing various programs answered many of their needs and contributed to the success which the Center enjoys. As a volunteer, I saw first-hand the impact that Marcy had on many levels. She will be sorely missed. This is a major loss,” he said.

Friendships will continue

The Darien Senior Center will always be “close and dear to my heart,” she says. As a fourth generation Darien resident, Rand said that many of the seniors who attend the center’s programming are parents of her childhood friends.

“I knew everyone and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The relationships I’ve made with seniors in Darien —many of them are now my friends,” she said.

“I enjoy seeing them at Darien Summer Nights concerts and Memorial Day. I’m not leaving town. I look forward to always having a special relationship with these seniors,” Rand said

Rand also said she was incredibly proud of the Darien senior center team and the quality of the center.

“Pre-pandemic, our schedule was chockful. It was full of health and wellness and other programming. It is really a jewel for the Darien community,” she said.

For more information on Darien senior center programming, visit the tab at DarienCT.gov.