Local News

The Godnick Adult Center: a lifeline against loneliness, isolation 


While many area residents and visitors sadly noted the end of the ski season, others are rejoicing that summer is finally here. We’re the ones who counted the days until we could enjoy Vermont’s picturesque scenery, quaint downtowns, and abundant arts offerings – in comfortable sandals and sundresses.

There are older adults reading this, however, who are not the rugged outdoorsy type, nor do they enjoy loud and crowded musical performances, or spending hours on their feet meandering in and out of whimsical shops and chilly galleries. Instead, they may still be experiencing the isolation and loneliness customarily associated with winter.

In fact, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently launched a campaign to combat what he has called “our epidemic of loneliness and isolation…an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health.” Two years ago, neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta released a book titled: Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, which became a bestseller. Among Dr. Gupta’s most adamant recommendations for combating brain decline at any age are: exercise and socialize.

As June is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, it’s worth noting that for people over 40, isolation and loneliness are two of the most pressing risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, which the Alzheimer’s Association indicates affects more than 55 million people worldwide.

Here in Vermont, we are fortunate that there are several community centers within 20 miles of the Killington-Rutland area that offer engaging, stimulating, and inspiring activities for older adults. According to state records, Vermont has 48 of these centers. The Godnick Adult Center, on Woodstock Avenue in Rutland, is one such place.

Built in 1971 as a senior center, it was renamed the Godnick Adult Center in 1999, in honor of Dr. Robert Godnick, a longtime Rutland resident and physician who was a passionate advocate for seniors and was instrumental in the development of the Center.

Today, the Godnick Adult Center is part of Rutland’s Recreation and Parks Department and funded by the City of Rutland and private donations. The Center is open to all adults, non-residents as well as residents, regardless of income or ability. At first glance it seems like any other place that offers older adults opportunities to socialize, learn new skills, and stay active.

There are arts and crafts workshops, plus social events, and fitness classes that include yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and fitness training. The Center also offers computer classes, financial literacy workshops, and memoir writing as well as support groups for caregivers and people with disabilities.

However, for some older adults who are experiencing tremendous loss and loneliness, the Godnick Adult Center is nothing short of a lifeline, facilitated by a team of educators, social workers, recreation specialists, dietitians and other professionals. 

“I have so many stories of individuals who had a hard time just walking through the door,” said April Cioffi, the Godnick Adult Center’s program director, in a recent interview. 

“When they come in, we greet them with warmth and understanding,” Cioffi said. “They may recently have gone through a divorce. They may have just lost a spouse. They might have called three or four times before they even came in,” she added. 

Cioffi has been with the Rutland Recreation and Parks Department since 2006, earning several promotions along the way. A graduate of St. Michael’s College, with a B.A. in fine and studio arts, Cioffi worked at the Rec department during her summers off, running youth-oriented camps for hockey, basketball, and soccer. 

It’s reasonable for anyone to wonder how Cioffi’s background with youth recreation led to her running a program that nurtures older adults’ capacity for improving their overall health.

When asked, Cioffi (who just turned 40) quipped, “I consider myself an old soul. I don’t feel like I’m always doing the things that my age group is doing, like risk taking. As you can see, I’ve stayed in the same job for 16 years, which is not the norm for my age group.”

Through her work at the Godnick Adult Center though, Cioffi has emerged as a leading Vermont advocate for senior health, lifelong learning, and anti-ageist attitudes. Among her many responsibilities, she is president elect of the Vermont Parks and Recreation Association and serves on key committees promoting health. Plus she is married, with two children, ages 13 and 10, and two adult stepchildren. 

The Godnick Adult Center recently was awarded a grant to build a more accessible walking path behind the facility, an initiative that was prompted by a community survey. To that point, Cioffi praises various partners that facilitate the Center’s work, including AAA, the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging, Come Alive Outside, other Vermont senior centers, and the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living. 

She is also quick to praise Kim Peters, the director of Rutland’s Recreation and Parks Department. When I approached Cioffi and Peters simultaneously regarding an interview for this feature, Peters immediately deferred to Cioffi, which is admirable in and of itself. 

As Cioffi concluded our interview, she emphasized how vital the Godnick Adult Center is to so many in our area. 

“We have some folks who come first thing in the morning on Monday to do an exercise class and end up staying all the way through our activities and not leaving until three o’clock,” she said. “This is a place they want to come back to. We have people who tell us that this place changed their life.” 

For more information, visit: rutlandrec.com/godnick or call 802-773-1853. 

Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is principal and owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions: lizdimarcoweinmann.com.

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