Get to know... Beth Paris

Photo of Justin Papp
Darien Director of Senior Services Beth Paris in her office at the Mather Center.
Darien Director of Senior Services Beth Paris in her office at the Mather Center.Justin Papp / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — Beth Paris took over as director of senior programs in 2009, when the Senior Activities Center was still on Edgerton Road.

In her nearly seven years in the role, and now stationed in the new and improved Mather Center, Paris has been instrumental in growing the town’s senior services. Paris attributes the increased services offered — there is a wood shop, a computer lab, foreign language classes and a Wii Tennis team — and the growing number of seniors flocking to the center to the welcoming atmosphere that she insists upon.

Paris sat down for an interview on Tuesday to showcase the senior center and talk about its many offerings.

How did you get into senior services? What brought you to Darien?

I’ve been in the field for over 40 years. I always say that my grandmother got me into the field.

I’m a psychological and social gerontologist, which is not a medical person, but I’ve done programming in long-term care facilities and in Stratford before this for 25½ years. I’ll be here for seven years in July. It’s different in a community environment than in a long-term care setting. It’s basically building a program that’s got a creative focus, a health and wellness focus, service focus. It’s more looking in a global way and programming for four generations: 55-years-old all the way to 102-years-old.

Who’s utilizing the center?

The average age that’s coming to the center on a regular basis right now is about 72. So what you’ll find is that younger groups of folks are basically coming for a specific class, or event, or activity or program, and then they leave. They’re not hanging out. The folks that stay for the lion’s share of the day tend to be the 80-and-older folks.

When I first came, we had 220 members. When we left Edgerton, we had 638 people. We now have 1,398 members. I think it’s 988 now are Darien residents. In terms of nonresidents, the largest portion come from Stamford, Norwalk and Rowayton.

How have senior centers changed since you started?

I’ve seen a real big change in senior centers over the 30 years that I’ve been involved with them because of the way that the rest of the community extends, and is looking for the seniors’ dollars and for their involvement in other programs. Retirement is a lot longer. Healthy people being in the community, even in their 80s and still driving, is very different than 20 years ago. So you’re seeing longevity, but you’re also seeing stronger quality of life for a longer period of time.

Has volunteerism increased proportionately with the increasing number of seniors using the center?

Yes. We have 35 volunteers. The welcome desk is pretty much covered now. Every day we have at least two people, and now we have backups. The instructors have been coming to us to teach a class. That really wasn’t happening at Edgerton, and that’s been happening here, because people want to teach in a beautiful room.

How did the move to the Mather Center benefit the seniors?

When we moved here, the building became like an ambassador. It had this welcoming look. It was beautiful. It made people feel good. And also it can carry all the activities that we’re doing. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of it? It makes you feel good about your town. It makes you feel, “This isn’t a dumpy little senior center I’m going to. This is a provocative, happening place and I want to be a part of this.”

It’s also been something that makes you feel good about the fact that you’re in a community that wants you to be here. We find that these folks that have been here for years and years and have been the tax base for a long time and have been the builders of many programs that are still going on in perpetuity, we want to honor them too. We want them to have a place. We want them to have an environment that makes them feel part of the community.

What are some of the changes in the center that you are especially proud of during your tenure?

One thing that we’re very proud of that didn’t happen until this year is informal use. There are people coming in just to play bridge with their friends. There are people coming in the morning to have coffee here. That’s really a sign of success, more than anything else, that they’re saying, “this is my place.”;