Greenfield a healthy place to retire: Plenty for seniors to do, new study says

  • Walter N. Leutz Contributed photo

  • Eva Carrier, 67, of Greenfield, works out at the Greenfield YMCA with personal trainer Troy Lucier. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Monday, July 18, 2016

Wondering where to retire? Ireland? Canada? Florida? Panama?

Consider Greenfield, urges Brandeis University Social Policy Professor Walter N. Leutz, who is working on a study of aging in Greenfield.

Leutz has found the city to be “very, very age-friendly.”

“It could be a retirement destination,” he said, “It’s one of the friendliest places I’ve been.”

Leutz recently presented his study at the Greenfield Senior Center, located in the Weldon House off of High Street.

With the help of his wife, Elizabeth Leutz, as well as several senior consultants, Leutz studied conditions for seniors in Greenfield and Waltham, the city where Brandeis is located.

He was surprised at how rich the lives of seniors are in both cities.

“It’s totally amazing what seniors contribute to our communities, especially this community (Greenfield),” he said. “It was an epiphany.”

Leutz said he found several things about Greenfield and the life it provides its seniors.

The downtown is attractive and accessible. It has a department store, a cinema, a bookstore, a food cooperative, an office store, the YMCA, a daily newspaper, restaurants and other offerings.

The town has nice parks and walking paths.

Housing exists within walking distance of downtown, and there are low-income loans available for repairs, tax breaks for seniors if they volunteer in town, and fuel assistance is available.

The town’s seniors are very involved in the life of the town, volunteering on boards and at events and such.

There is some transportation for seniors, including vans, buses and Amtrak trains.

Excellent social services are available for seniors through LifePath in Turners Falls, and there are other groups.

Great medical services are available through Baystate Medical Center and other providers.

The federal safety net, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and subsidized housing, is crucial for seniors here.

“Without that base, older people would be in very bad shape,” he said. “It gives seniors at least basic security, though it has its problems.”

Leutz said he considers a healthy place for retirement to be one where seniors can be physically active, find meaning in their lives, be socially engaged, feel safe and secure and have a good diet, among other things.

In Greenfield, the researchers looked at housing, employment, civic participation, transportation, community services and access to information about services.

The study had an extremely low budget of $2,500, he said, although he was able to put in his own time as he was on sabbatical — and he did have the help of senior volunteers and a Brandeis student intern.

The researchers interviewed 53 seniors at Elm Terrace, the YMCA, the Senior Center, neighborhood meetings and a food pantry, along with hospice workers and others.

They also talked to employees at 13 local nonprofits that serve seniors.

“People we talked to were incredibly generous with their time,” said Elizabeth Leutz.

Leutz said he was impressed with how much seniors participate in the public life of Greenfield. Many spoke about enjoying the YMCA and the help they get from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Triad Program.

Leutz applauded the sheriff’s program.

“Triad officers look in on seniors, watching out for scams,” Leutz said. “They provide electric scooters for them and pick up excess farm food for them. It’s great!”

Greenfield also takes sustainability seriously, and has a great deal of activism, he said.

The professor said he also just enjoys the feel of Greenfield.

“Greenfield is really a friendly place,” he said. “I don’t see a lot of people excluded. Whether you are in the Big Y or the co-op or on the street downtown.

Leutz said he recognizes Greenfield could make improvements for older residents.

Leutz said seniors he interviewed want a new senior center, more benches to sit on while walking downtown, bike paths and better curb cuts, crosswalks and sidewalks.

“You need to be first-rate for walkers and wheelchairs,” he said.

Edith Handleman, 93, of the Weldon House, who was at Leutz’s meeting at the senior center, agreed.

“I walk downtown. Something needs to be done about it,” she said.

Handleman said she uses her walker or takes her wheelchair from the Weldon to Main Street. The sidewalks and curb cuts need improving, she said.

Leutz said he would like to see the Franklin Regional Transit Authority bus drivers help people with their bags, which they now are not allowed to do.

Vans that elders can call for appointments, shopping, church and social visits end at 4 p.m., which is too early, he said.

As far as housing goes, Greenfield has some subsidized housing, but the demand exceeds the supply, he added.

Some at the recent meeting speculated that elderly homeowners might consider renting out a room.

Greenfield YMCA Executive Director Bob Sunderland says he knows several people on the verge of homelessness who could exchange helping a senior at home for a room. “It could help seniors stay in their home.”

One problem, according to Leutz, is that sometimes people don’t know how to get help for things like shoveling a car out of snow.

“There are services, but people don’t know how to get them,” he said.

The researchers heard consistently that, “people are struggling to figure out how to get information.”

“Sometimes you get stuck in your house (because of the snow),” Handleman said. “When you don’t get out, you get very, very frustrated.”

Co-researcher Pam Barber said she saw an advertisement in the newspaper asking for help on the study and thought it was interesting, having lived in Waltham 29 years before moving to Greenfield.

She said she was impressed with what the interviewees had to say.

“It reinforced for me that Greenfield is a great place to retire to,” she said.

Leutz acknowledged that one weakness of the study is that the researchers had people come to places in town to be interviewed, so it missed people who couldn’t get there.

“We missed some people who live in isolation, who are low-income, who have no transportation,” he said.

Leutz is looking for more seniors to continue the research.

To make Greenfield a retirement destination, Sunderland suggested fixing up apartments and buildings within six blocks of downtown.

In Waltham, seniors have organized to help each other do things such as get to the doctor’s office, shovel snow, do shopping, and make small repairs, Leutz said.

Barber, one of the senior researchers, was excited to learn more about Greenfield.

“Both Waltham and Greenfeld are very, very age-friendly and offer a lot of support,” Barber said. “This reinforced for me that Greenfield is a great place to retire to. There really is a true community spirit here.”

Elizabeth Leutz, whose own career was working with children, also found the research an eye-opener.

“I was really enthusiastic about doing research, but I needed some convincing about a study of healthy aging,” she said. “I thought aging was a slow ride downhill. I came away thinking completely differently about it. It’s totally amazing what seniors contribute to our communities, especially this community.”