By ELIZABETH MACAULEY
Chronicle Staff Writer
WILLIMANTIC â€” The seniors of Windham are officially mobile and ready to hit the road.
The Windham Senior Center unveiled its brand-new van to seniors Thursday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
â€śOur last van was around 10 years old,â€ť said Mary DeMarco, human services director for the Windham Senior Center. â€śIt was old, had a lot of mileage and wasnâ€™t safe to drive out of town so we were sort of grounded.â€ť
â€śThe frame was rotting and rusted in the old van,â€ť said Amanda Sherman, administrative assistant at the Windham Senior Center. â€śIt was really becoming a safety concern.â€ť
According to DeMarco, the van was taken off the road last spring.
â€śWeâ€™ve been waiting since August for this van,â€ť DeMarco said. â€śIt kept getting delayed, which was disheartening because the seniors look forward to trips so much.â€ť
At the senior center, the van is considered their New Yearâ€™s gift.
â€śIt was paid for with town funds,â€ť DeMarco said. â€śThe public works department made the purchase and put the order in.â€ť
According to Kathy Worcester, administrative assistant for the Windham Public Works Department, the van cost roughly $60,000.
â€śIt doesnâ€™t rattle like the last van,â€ť DeMarco said. â€śWe had to stuff pool noodles into the wheelchair lift of the last van because it rattled so much.â€ť
The new van also has surround sound speakers and a backup camera, DeMarco said.
For Kate Cox, the senior centerâ€™s activities coordinator, the new ride is both exciting and meaningful for the seniors because a lot of them donâ€™t own a car and therefore canâ€™t go on trips without the van.
â€śIf you donâ€™t drive, you donâ€™t get to go,â€ť said senior Shirley Blomberg of Willimantic. â€śSo itâ€™s exciting to be able to go on trips again.â€ť
According to DeMarco, past senior trips have included the governorâ€™s mansion in Hartford, Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford and out-of-town restaurants.
â€śItâ€™s nice to get to eat with someone other than ourselves,â€ť Blomberg said.
Seniors wasted no time requesting trips and destinations while at the ribbon-cutting.
The No. 1 request seniors have is to be taken to the casino, Cox said.
â€śIâ€™m working on the February calendar and Iâ€™m currently taking suggestions,â€ť Cox said. â€śThey already requested to go to Mystic Village today.â€ť
For DeMarco, the van is important because it gives seniors an opportunity to get out and see new places.
â€śI think we take being able to drive for granted and donâ€™t realize its value until we canâ€™t anymore,â€ť DeMarco said.
DeMarco said a lot of seniors donâ€™t get out and therefore havenâ€™t seen whatâ€™s new around the community, like the bustling commerce of Storrs Center.
â€śThe van is a great thing for them,â€ť DeMarco said. â€śItâ€™s nice, smells new and is really exciting.â€ť
For more information, call the Windham Senior Center at 860-423-4524.