By Kim Primicerio
Kaitlin Peterson, a junior majoring in social work, has brought a new program to the Trumbull Senior Center this past semester as part of her field placement assignment. Through weekly chats over coffee, she draws out members, helps them build relationships and determines whether they need any services or support.
Peterson interacted with seniors twice a week, answering phones and attending home visits. In the beginning of January, with guidance from the senior center’s director, Peterson started to host “Coffee Talk with Kaitlin,” for half an hour on Thursday mornings.
“I usually sit with a random group,” Peterson said one Thursday while awaiting visitors. “A lot of people can’t participate in the exercise or group classes that occur at this time, so I try to get everyone talking.”
That day, Peterson talked with two senior center members at a small table in the center’s café area, where members typically go to watch TV, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee or find a book to read. She had an open box of Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins on the table to entice others to come over and join the conversation, and she also had a printout of a recent news article. Each week she tries to share an article with the group that isn’t too controversial to get the seniors chatting. Occasionally, she picks stories about celebrities from earlier decades whose birthday just passed. “I try to find topics that are not negative. Sometimes, if I have a big group, I have everyone introduce themselves. It gets everyone talking and getting to know each other,” said Peterson, who plans to pursue a career in family therapy or crisis intervention.
Michele Jakab, senior center director and Peterson’s supervisor, said Peterson works with the center’s most vulnerable population. “Her visitors tend to be older and frailer, struggling to keep their independence in the community. She does a fantastic job creating new relationships and listening to her group’s needs. They get the opportunity to share their struggles, and Kaitlin is able to identify needed services or support that might help them.”
Coffee Talk also allows people to branch out from their typical groups and cliques and meet new people, Peterson said. The purpose of her get-togethers is to help everyone feel comfortable chatting and airing any concerns or frustrations they might have. During one session, a gentleman spoke about an upcoming surgery he was going to have; Peterson said she hoped their conversation made him feel more at ease and reassured about the operation.
David Costeines, a senior center member, said he enjoyed the conversations. “Other than this, we don’t really have any activities where you just talk,” he said, explaining that other activities such as exercise classes or card games require participants’ full attention.
Jakab said Peterson has grown during her time at the center and has made great gains with many of the members. In addition to visits with home-bound individuals and helping clients with behavioral issues, she organizes the center’s food pantry and attends seminars when she can. Playing cards and being available to the seniors also has been beneficial for them. “She can actively listen to her clients, earn their trust, make her own assessment and help meet the client’s needs,” Jakab said. “We hit the jackpot with Kaitlin. She is a dedicated student and dedicated to the social work practice. She has become the staff member everyone is always looking for,” Jakab said.