Clayton senior center could be a model for Watertown

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Jan. 23—CLAYTON — Just 59, Debbie J. Hunter felt alone when her husband died 11 years ago.

It was a painful time.

Fortunately, Mrs. Hunter eventually found a group of other widows when she started attending activities at the Paynter Senior Center in Clayton.

It’s become a support group of friends she can rely on and get together with to do things at the senior center.

“They can relate to me and I find I relate to them,” she said.

Open Monday to Friday, the Paynter Center offers all kinds of activities for seniors and has served Clayton, Alexandria Bay, Cape Vincent and Orleans since 1976.

Seniors can join exercise and art classes, community-sponsored dinners, hear live music, receive monthly advice on how to use iPads and the internet and retirement programs from the Department of Social Services.

Without the senior center and its activities, older adults could be very much home alone and suffer from loneliness, said executive director Barb Morrow.

“There has to be a reason to get them out,” she said.

City resident Robert Avallone would like to see seniors in Watertown also have a place to go to enjoy each other’s company and do things together. He’s proposed opening a senior center in Watertown and has appeared before City Council to talk about it.

The National Council on Aging says 1 in 6 seniors living alone in the United States faces physical, cultural and/or geographical barriers that isolate them from their peers and communities.

That isolation can prevent them from receiving benefits and services that can improve their economic security and their ability to live healthy, independent lives, the national council reports.

It’s harder for those seniors who lost a spouse. The senior center offers a grief support group that helps, Mrs. Morrow said.

But the Paynter Senior Center also is there to simply help people find something to do, to get together and enjoy similar interests and activities.

Activities director Sandi Baril said “the coffee is always on” at the center and that initiates camaraderie.

Last week, about a dozen 60- and 70-something women came together in the morning for some exercise, participating in a Balance Boxing class.

The program is designed to put the effects of Parkinson’s disease on the ropes and slow down its symptoms, thus improving the lives of those with the disease.

For those women in the class, it’s mostly a form of exercise for them since they don’t have the disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. A key part of the program are its balance skills.

On this morning, Ms. Baril, Mrs. Morrow and Diane Rogers were instructors for the class, filling in for Bob and Fran King who were away for a few weeks.

Wearing coaching training mitts, they went toe to toe with the would-be pugilists, calling out steps to correlate with punch sequences they must memorize.

For an hour, the women bobbed and weaved, throwing their best combinations of jabs, right hooks and upper cuts. “Thuds” and “thwacks” were heard when they landed their punches on the coaching mitts.

Not pulling any punches during the class, participant Barb Bugshaw said she had to make sure that the two instructors duck or they’d get hit with a right hook.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said.

That kind of activity is exactly what Mrs. Rogers, 73, still looks for, so she attends many of the exercise programs that the center offers to get that full body workout.

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