Gathering Place director retiring just short of local opening
DOVER - As of Friday, Mary Fredette, the executive director of Brattleboro-based adult day center The Gathering Place, will no longer be at the organization’s helm. Fredette is retiring (sort of, anyway) about a month short of the grand opening of a satellite location for The Gathering Place in Dover, a project that has been driven by Fredette since its inception.
“In life, you have certain things that are important to you personally,” says Fredette. “One of my personal goals forever has been that I want to make a difference. A boss once said to me, ‘How many people do you have to touch every day for it to be OK?’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t think I’ve gotten there yet.’ And it’s funny; over the course of the last year, I’ve started to think that maybe I have touched enough, so that I can slow down a little bit. And that’s beautiful. Life is good.”
Though Fredette says she’s looking forward to slowing her pace and spending some time in her garden, she isn’t quite done making a difference. She’s started a new venture, Life Planning Vermont, where she’ll help families plan for their futures. “It’s pretty much care planning,” she says. “Helping folks to look at where they live, what their resources are, what their own personal goals are as they age, and develop a plan that’s feasible with some ‘what-ifs’ built in, so that you’re prepared.”
Fredette came to The Gathering Place in 2012, when she relocated to Vermont to be closer to her daughter and newborn grandson. Before that, she was working for a Lutheran organization in Pennsylvania, helping to create a hybrid health plan for seniors and people with disabilities.
“It had capitation payments, monthly payments,” says Fredette. “And whatever people needed you had to provide, whether they needed their eyes checked or they needed to have surgery. It is sort of the kind of structure that the single-payer system represents.”
“It was really cool, and I loved every minute of it,” Fredette says. “But my grandson won out.”
Grandma duties were calling, but so was that need to help people. Fredette grew up in Walpole, NH, and was familiar with the area, and when she saw there was an opening for an executive director at The Gathering Place, she applied. “When I got to meet the board, a woman I had worked with for several years in Keene was on the board,” says Fredette. “It felt sort of like it was meant to be.”
Fredette says before her tenure, The Gathering Place typically had around 25 participants, but the program grew once they started newspaper advertisements and community involvement events. A shift in the center’s approach to adult day programming also boosted its popularity.
“We are a social model with a heavy clinical component,” says Fredette. “Care is not a good descriptor of what we do. We’re a wellness-based, healthy model that empowers people to be as independent as possible. And when the board made the decision to move things in that way, the whole world changed, and it opened up a lot of opportunity for us to do things differently.”
Fredette says the program has routinely had seven to 11 participants from the Deerfield Valley who make the trip over the mountain daily to Brattleboro. Fredette began pursuing a satellite location of The Gathering Place in the valley after a series of meetings she co-hosted with Wilmington Town Nurse Jennifer Fitzgerald. The meetings were focused on aging in place and what The Gathering Place could do to help.
“We were just information-gathering about what people need and what they would need in the future,” says Fredette. “At the end of meeting number two, a guy stood up at the end and said, ‘This is all great, but why don’t we just tell her what we really want? We want The Gathering Place to open an adult day in the valley as the foundation for aging in place.’ So there it was.”
Fredette took the request back to the The Gathering Place’s board and began to look for space to open a satellite location. In the summer of 2017, Fredette went to the Wilmington and Dover selectboards to ask for financial support for a satellite center. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that The Gathering Place would be converting the former First Wok restaurant in Dover into its new space.
Now, the new facility is weeks from opening. The Dover branch of The Gathering Place will offer many of the same services as the center’s Brattleboro location, which include individualized care; nursing oversight; nutritious meals; chronic disease management; prevention and health maintenance; on-site physical and other therapies; coordination of transportation; and therapeutic activities, such as art and music.
Fredette said The Gathering Place has its eyes on a mid-May opening date, noting that throughout the building process, she’s been amazed by the passion and enthusiasm shown by everyone in the valley.
“There are no words to describe the immediate connection with people from the valley — Wilmington, Wardsboro, I don’t care where they’re from,” says Fredette. “I think some of that has come from (Tropical Storm) Irene. It’s their commitment to each other. They know what it’s like to have a fast season and then a no season.”
Fredette says Betsy Reagan and Mary Jane Finnegan have been particularly helpful. “This couldn’t have happened without them.”
Fredette says she hopes that those in the community will watch for dates for an open house at the center, where they can see the newly renovated space and learn more about what The Gathering Place does. More information can be found in the coming weeks on The Gathering Place’s website, gatheringplacevt.org.