For almost 20 years, the Monroe Senior Benefit Fund has enhanced the lives of the town’s seniors.
The nonprofit organization formed in 1993 when Monroe resident Margaret Behrens bequeathed “a substantial amount of money to the town’s seniors,” said Marcella Watson, Monroe Senior Benefit Fund president.
Mary Massar, a Monroe resident for 45 years and former tax collector, said she was asked at the time to oversee the fund’s distribution to local seniors.
“Five years earlier, they had received about $13,000 or $14,000, but it was just sitting in the town coffers and no one really knew what to do with it,” Massar said.
At the time, the Monroe Senior Center was located in a room at Masuk High School. “They didn’t have a huge membership back then because they didn’t have a place to hold programs like they do today,” Massar said.
The Monroe Senior Benefit Fund did help out when a need was identified, such as by purchasing spring water after a problem arose with drinking water quality.
Opportunities to use funds from the Monroe Senior Benefit Fund became more frequent when the new Monroe Senior Center opened on Cutlers Farms Road in 2003.
In looking back at the fund’s contributions, both Watson and Massar said they were surprised at the various ways the organization has impacted Monroe’s seniors.
“We came up with a long list,” Watson said. “We just do whatever needs to be done, and we have been doing it quietly. We don’t shout ‘Hurray!’ every time we’ve donated something.”
For example, in honor of its original benefactor, Margaret Behrens, a piano was purchased for the Monroe Senior Center.
The fund also has helped to furnish the senior center’s front entranceway and library. Using a generous, anonymous donation, recently a sound system for the center was purchased.
One of the fund’s major donors has been the Werth Family Foundation, based in Woodbridge.
Following a senior member’s death, family and friends may donate money to the Monroe Senior Benefit Fund in a loved one’s name.
“Sometimes they would ask us to plant a tree or purchase a bench for the center in honor of this person,” Massar explained. “We would, of course, carry out their wishes.”
In some cases, the loved one’s name may be found on a nearby plaque, Watson said.
For the senior center, the Monroe Senior Benefit Fund also has purchased kitchen equipment, dishes, coffee pots, bookcases, a podium, card tables, exercise equipment, a sewing machine, storage and office equipment, window blinds, heart monitors and a television set.
Making a difference
Monroe Social and Senior Services Director Barbara Yeager said the senior center “would not be the wonderful, welcoming place it is without the generosity of the Senior Benefit Fund.”
“The group has supported the center continuously over many years, quietly making a difference,” Yeager said. “In addition to donating equipment and funding special luncheons, the fund has supplemented funding for yoga and ballroom aerobics, in particular, which the center’s budget couldn’t sustain.”
The Senior Benefit Fund can assist Monroe seniors who have financial difficulties. “If there’s a senior who has a specific need, the board gets together to vote on how we can help them,” Watson said. “One year we made food baskets.”
Board members meet about four times a year to discuss fund-raising goals. They are Rose Smigel, vice president; Rita Sagnelli, secretary; Mary Massar, treasurer; and Jim Fogarty, liaison to the Monroe community.
“Jim goes to a lot of meetings involving seniors,” Watson explained. “He has a lot of ideas about what seniors need.”
At one time, the fund had $40,000 in cash and donated goods. However, donations have decreased over the years.
“Right now we’re at a stage where we’re not purchasing a lot of things for the center,” Massar said. “We replace things that are broken and will help out if there’s something small we could buy. We know that the senior center budget has been reduced so we do what we can. Right now our focus is a bit different.”
When the town reduced the senior center’s nutrition program by $4,000, the Senior Fund began to subsidize some of the senior luncheons. Along with providing a healthy meal, the lunchtime gatherings are a good way for seniors to meet new friends.
“It’s an important way for people to socialize,” Massar said. “It’s a chance to get out of the house.”
During the holiday season, the Monroe Senior Benefit Fund sponsored the center’s Thanksgiving and Christmas luncheon parties, including the entertainment and door prizes.
Led by Watson, in December the organization put together a gift basket for the Christmas party’s door prize. “I had so much fun putting it together,” Watson said. “There were so many goodies in there — cheese, crackers, popcorn, wine, you name it.”
Donations to the Monroe Senior Benefit Fund are appreciated and are tax deductible. Checks may be sent to the fund in care of the Monroe Senior Center, 235 Cutlers Farm Road, Monroe, CT 06468.