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Chili Senior Center Director recognized with state award
Mary Anne Sears is clearly passionate about what she does. The director of programs for the aging at the Chili Senior Center typically puts in 60 hours each week at her job – well beyond what is required by the town, but she says that’s OK with her.
“I love, love, love my job,” she says. “I love what I do.”
Sears was honored recently by state Senator Mike Ranzenhofer who selected her as a 2014 New York Woman of Distinction.
She traveled to Albany May 13 for the ceremonies at the capitol and was able to see many of the sites of the city before returning home on May 14.
“It was a great honor,” Sears says of the award. “I’m glad I went.”
Senator Ranzenhofer personally selected Sears for the award following a visit to the Senior Center. He told her he admired the work she has accomplished there.
“Mary Anne is more than deserving of special recognition by the state Senate as a New York Woman of Distinction,” Senator Ranzenhofer says. “She is dedicated to many seniors in Monroe County by planning lectures and local trips, all while fostering a warm, caring environment at the Chili Senior Center. Mary Anne sets an example for others by taking time out of her day to know something special about each member.”
The Woman of Distinction program was created in 1998 to honor great New York women.
Sears has worked for nearly ten years to ensure seniors stay healthy, active and independent members of the Chili community. During that time, she has infused new life into the center and has increased membership from a few hundred to almost 2,000 seniors.
She works to create new, innovative programs to help meet some of the social, cognitive, physical and emotional needs of seniors and welcomes seniors in nearby communities to join in.
Sears has an extensive background in gerontology and therapeutic recreation and worked at St. John’s Home for many years. In 2010, she received the “Outstanding Citizen Award.” Some of her past work experiences included working with Alzheimer’s patients, Sears says, but the seniors in Chili have been her toughest clients.
“They are alert and oriented,” Sears says. “They are honest and tell it like it is, they make me accountable.”
Sears has a genuine love for the aging, “They are my elders, they teach me more than books or classrooms ever could,” she explains.
Recently, the Sweden Senior Center cut back its hours, a move that concerns Sears. She says seniors need to be active and engaged and become depressed quickly when they have no place to go.
“People need to feel needed,” she says. “For some, this (the senior center) is the only place they can go for a hug. I worry about the old folks. When their isolation increases, they don’t eat, they don’t shop, they waste away.”
The Chili Senior Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is a constant bustle of activity and interaction for seniors: birthdays are celebrated the first Thursday of the month; there are health and wellness programs; day trips – including mystery trips and outings; longer trips; lunch on Monday and Thursday; movies; the Summer Concert Series; DVDs, CDs and books to borrow; bingo; bridge; art classes; greeting card making; woodcarving; crochet, knitting and senior chorus – to name only a few.
Some of the crafts made by seniors are sold to help support the center, Sears says.
She oversees a staff of three part-time workers and 100 “valuable volunteers. I’m grateful for all I have,” Sears says. “I’m blessed.”
Sears says she works to run the center in a frugal and practical manner and is grateful for the support of the Chili Town Board and Supervisor David Dunning.
“I’m here for the long haul,” she says. “I love coming to work, it’s a passion.” Sears adds that she hopes to see a new community center for the town come to fruition before she retires.
She says she will continue in her work to keep Chili seniors active – “keep their working parts working,” and notes that she always tells her staff that nothing can replace treating others well.
“You must always treat others with kindness and dignity,” she says. “Kindness is crucial.”