Golden Years: Suzanne Newman Reaches Out to Mansfield's Senior Citizens
May 15, 2015 08:45AM
For many senior citizens throughout Mansfield, Suzanne Newman is not only a dedicated ally but a good friend. That’s because as senior coordinator for the Mansfield Parks & Recreation Department, Newman devotes herself to creating programs, staging events, and recruiting speakers who are focused exclusively on the needs and interests of the city’s 55 and older residents. There’s probably not a better person for the job than Newman.
The 46-year-old has been working with and serving the senior citizens of Mansfield since 1998. That’s when she first volunteered with the Mansfield ISD to recruit seniors to help out at a district event. “I was so excited every year with the seniors who came out and participated in the event with the kids,” she says. “I called the director at the senior center to express my deepest appreciation for the volunteers.” On a whim, she asked about job openings. The Mansfield Activities Center was under construction and getting ready to open in the spring of 2001. There was a need for someone like Newman and the timing was perfect.
She was hired and has now been with the city since 2001 and has been the senior coordinator since 2004. The program has come a long way over the past 14 years and Newman hopes to see it grow to even greater heights in the future. “In my 14 plus years of service, I have grown the senior lifestyles program from 362 active memberships to 682 active memberships.”
Newman’s approach to her job as senior coordinator is straightforward. “To provide a senior center program that is a community focal point where older adults come together for services and activities that reflect their experiences and skills, respond to their diverse needs and interests, enhance their dignity, support their independence and encourage their involvement in the center and the community,” she says.
She says the department does this by partnering with Senior Citizen Services of Greater Tarrant County to provide a healthy nutritional daily lunch program for seniors, organizing public speaking opportunities to educate the community and bring more awareness and services to senior citizens, partnering with other departments for city-wide special events, developing programs, scheduling classes, and providing transportation service. Currently, the activities take place at the MAC. But as the program grows, Newman hopes to one day have a separate facility just for the senior program.
She points out that things have evolved over time. “The senior lifestyles program started in a small white frame house on Broad St. before moving to the recreation facility,” she says. “I hope we can move to a newer standalone facility that will assist us with our continued growth.” A dedicated facility would allow the group to offer more comprehensive programs such as a health and wellness information and resource center to help those needing additional outside assistance. “To accomplish this goal I am already working on a sponsorship program from various businesses and people in the community and hope to staff it with volunteers from the various organizations,” she says.
For now, the department remains focused on programs and services for seniors. That’s why Newman and her staff rely on input from seniors. “We’re driven by the interests of the seniors,” she says. “My staff and I remain flexible to their wants and capabilities by providing a variety of trips and activities that are enjoyed by everyone.” She points out they must also keep in mind the limited mobility and physical limitations of some of the citizens.
Health issues are something that Newman can identify with very acutely. “I am a kidney transplant recipient and that often prevents me from being as involved as I would like in many of the on-the-go activities that we provide for the seniors,” she says. “However, I don’t let this stop me from excelling in other areas and my staff is more than happy to assist with trips.”
That staff is a great asset, she says. Caprice Gollaway is the activities specialist, Tara Weatherspoon is the records clerk, and Steve Floyd, Paul Tate and Buz Wilson handle bus transportation, events set up and numerous other related tasks. But everyone pitches in. “There are six personnel, two buses, and contract instructors for various classes for seniors plus a few other operating expenses for our senior lifestyles program,” she says.
Newman is one of those people who really found her calling in life. She loves the work she does and it’s easy to see.
She recognizes that many seniors may not have family and can feel they are alone. “I feel that one of the most rewarding parts to my job is being able to help and comfort them when they need it most. One of the most fulfilling things is when you are involved with seniors, you become like family.”
Written by Kerry Pipes