The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 27, 2009

COA Director Kathy Mull moves down the road

Carlisle is a small town, and that is one of the things Kathy Mull has enjoyed about working here. “I have made a lot of good friends and I feel I’ve had the chance to grow here,” says the

Kathy Mull (Photo by Dave Ives)

Council on Aging Director, who is leaving on December 4 to take up a part-time co-director position down the road with the Bedford Council on Aging.

“There is great community spirit in Carlisle,” she adds, “and great cooperation. Our congregate meals program, for example, that we do with Minuteman Senior Services and Robbins Brook [Assisted Living], is hosted by all three Carlisle churches. They’re all volunteering, working together, to make this happen.”

“We have a huge group of volunteers, for clinics, for the Thanksgiving lunch, and for all the other programs. And we have Friendly Drivers, who supplement what we can provide in transportation and many of them don’t even collect their state reimbursements for gas and mileage.”

Carlisle has, according to Mull, the third fastest growing senior population in Massachusetts, so the town certainly has a use for the services the Council on Aging (COA) provides. Currently, she says, 19% of our population is senior, with 1,576 people aged 55 or over. She says that the population to “keep an eye on” is “the aged 50-plus people. There are 2,193 of them in a town of 5,400 people.” The senior population has “grown exponentially” since she arrived here in 2006, and shows no signs of diminishing, as more and more people want to stay in town rather than move out.

Although a number of people want to downsize or are forced to because of the expense of living in Carlisle and will move into Village Court, Malcolm Meadows, or the new Benfield apartments, many Carlisleans want to stay in their own homes. “There is also a population we don’t serve,” says Mull. “We do a lot of outreach to these people, but the fact is that there are still folks who will not call upon us or use our services. They feel it’s an invasion of their privacy.” Mull and her team have tried to publicize COA services over CCTV, in the Mosquito, and through the mail, “but I hope we will continue, after I leave, to reach out and improve our contact with people who may need us; let them know we’re here.”

Beginning a career:

a lucky proximity

Mull began her career in services for the aging in Littleton, where she served on the Planning Board and worked in the same building as the Littleton COA. Their Friends group invited her to be on their board and to help them hire a social worker. She became more and more involved with the Friends of the Littleton COA, and the social worker they hired suggested that she should consider a career in services for the aging. At that point, she was caring for two aging parents herself “so I was using all the services and referrals of the COA,” and completing a degree in business at Lesley College. Not long after her conversation with the Littleton social worker, she applied successfully for a part-time job as outreach coordinator for a new COA in Stow. “I think they hired me because I had personal experience with the social services end of councils on aging – I lived it, so I know what families are going through – and had done a considerable amount of community work.” While she served as Stow’s outreach coordinator, she took courses and workshops, “whatever was available,” for directors of COAs. When the director retired, she took over as full-time director, and served there for almost four years.

Her next position, as outreach coordinator for Westford, led to experience as the director of adult supportive day services there. After two and a half years in Westford, she left to care full time for her parents. “My sister left her job too,” she says. “After my mother passed away, I went back to work as a medical assistant, and then I was hired in Carlisle as COA director in 2006 [replacing outgoing director Jane Williams].”

Carlisle: a new team, expanded services

In 2006, the COA team was completely new. Outreach Coordinator Angela Smith came on board, as well as Transportation Coordinator Carol Nathan. Nathan left in 2008 to take a full-time job and Carol Killpartrick replaced her. Also hired in 2006 was a social worker, Peter Cullinane, who would serve in Carlisle for six hours a week doing crisis intervention. “We are a social services agency,” Mull stresses. “We refer families and seniors to assistance programs for food stamps, heath care, and the like, and we also help families to deal with caring for aging relatives long-distance, finding referrals and stepping them through insurance processes, for example.”

In her years in Carlisle, Mull has noticed some changes in trend among older people. There has been an increase in the numbers of elderly who need home care and services, but there has also been “a marked increase in younger seniors who want activities, primarily fitness and cultural programs. They can’t get enough of them. When I first got here, we had just fitness and line dancing.” People are asking for more varied fitness programs, and the COA now provides not only the regular fitness classes and yoga, but also cardio boost and Tai Chi. “And more people are even going outside of town for more of these types of classes,” says Mull. “We have seen an expansion in all of our services.” There are waiting lists for all the cultural programs, notably the Elliot Lilien lectures and opera programs at the library, and also for the Thanksgiving luncheon, the podiatry clinic, and more.

The social events and cultural programs are an integral part, Mull says, of keeping people active and healthy. Grinning widely, she recounts a story of overhearing a group of seniors coming out of a COA-sponsored social event “talking politics and world events, and then going on to their next activity and continuing the discussion. That,” she says, “is what it’s all about.”

Reflections on aging

In her career in services for the aging, Mull has done a good deal of observing and thinking about the aging process. She agrees with author Tom Brokaw that the World War II generation, now well into its eighties, is properly labeled the “greatest generation.”

These people, she says, are fiercely independent. “They don’t want to ask for help. They’re self-sufficient, and they are able to survive on very little. They don’t want their children to have to pay for their health care. They are proud, hardworking and very stoic. They take everything in stride, no matter what terrible things happen to them. I think it is because they had to grow up during the Depression, and then they had to deal with the war. When they came out of it, they just went right to work. They have an amazing resiliency.”

The next aging population now entering its sixties, the “Boomers,” are cut from a different cloth. “We, and I’m not afraid to say that I’m 61,” says Mull, “are focused on health and fitness. And we’re educated about these things, and we continually seek more education. We don’t look at retirement the same way, either. I know I couldn’t just sit. I tell people that retirement is not a stopping place; it just brings another whole dimension to your active life.”

Looking ahead

Mull has made it her business to organize programs, communicate and cooperate with outside agencies, and obtain grants for the COA here in Carlisle. Realizing that budgets are tight and becoming tighter, she says that, “we will need to step back and take a close look at what our crucial, critical services are, and increase sharing and cooperation with other departments, look at regionalization, and find ways to maintain these services. I’d like to see Carlisle’s COA continue its integrity, grow, provide these crucial services, and find ways to reach the older people we don’t yet serve. The COA needs to continue to be visible so that everyone will see it as a critical department: for the social service agency that it is.”

Her new part-time position at Bedford will allow Mull to pursue a master’s degree in Gerontology at UMass Boston, where she has already begun working on the Frank J. Manning certification program for gerontologists. Planning for the next dimension of her own active life, Mull says, “I’m hoping to be able to teach Gerontology. I’m one of those people who wants to stay in my house and be active in a community.

“As I get older,” she continues, “I want to retain my dignity, make decisions on my own but know when it is appropriate to ask for help and stay busy.” Carlisle will certainly miss her spirit and industry, but it looks like the field of Gerontology and the communities where Kathy Mull lives and works will continue to benefit from her energy and dedication for some time to come. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito