Jacqueline Martinez of Southold knew senior care was her calling when she began her internship at a senior care facility in Babylon 20 years ago. But in 2007, she fell in love with the profession after joining the staff at the Southold Town Senior Center in Mattituck.
“Seniors have a wealth of knowledge and information that inspires me every day,” said Ms. Martinez. “We have people here who are or are close to 100 years old. My favorite part of this job is chatting with them and learning about their lives and experiences.”
Ms. Martinez was recently named the center’s new director, following the departure of her predecessor, Karen McLaughlin, who retired in December after 32 years. Ms. McLaughlin was a leader in many of the programs offered by the center. She also mentored Ms. Martinez throughout most of her career and is confident she’ll excel in this new role.
“You couldn’t find a better person to take over as director,” Ms. McLaughlin said in an interview Tuesday. “When I decided to leave after over three decades dedicated to the center, I knew the program would be in excellent hands with Jacqui at the helm. I came to the realization that someone else should get that opportunity to make her mark on this place.”
For the last four years, the women worked together on a transition plan, preparing Ms. Martinez for the numerous responsibilities she’d take on as director. During this time, Ms. McLaughlin said, she encouraged Ms. Martinez to express her creativity and originality, noting that she always brought new ideas to the table. At the same time, Ms. Martinez wants to keep the mission of the center the same.
“We want to keep seniors in our community as independent as possible,” she said. “We want to provide a space where they can socialize and be taken care of within our community.”
The town senior center offers residents ages 60 and older the opportunity to attend weekday lunches, where they can socialize and enjoy nutritious meals. The center also offers a “Meals on Wheels” delivery service, providing those who may be home-bound with a hot lunch. The popular lunches can attract as many as 70 diners, according to Ms. Martinez, so those who plan to attend are asked to schedule at least a day in advance.
In her previous position as supervisor, a role she took on in 2018, Ms. Martinez oversaw the center’s transportation programs, which provide rides to seniors who can’t drive themselves to the weekday lunches or do essential weekly shopping at local supermarkets and drugstores. Ms. Martinez also managed the center’s residential repair program.
“The transition has been seamless,” said Ntozake Hatcher, case manager at the center. “Ms. Martinez really cares about the people here, both the seniors and her employees. We’re very excited to see what ideas she has for the future.”
The COVID-19 pandemic closed the center from March 2020 to May 2021 and again briefly from December 2021 to February 2022. During those periods, the center’s meal delivery program expanded to provide those most at risk with nutritious hot meals. It remains the center’s most popular service.
“Our numbers doubled in terms of the amount of meals that we were providing,” said Ms. Martinez. “It was quite a feat for the staff but they were wonderful in making sure everyone remained safe and fed.”
Ms. Martinez has high hopes for the future of the center. Although more than 49,000 meals were served to seniors last year, her focus is to get the word out and attract even more seniors to their services. She also plans to host evening meals during holidays throughout the year.
“I’m excited to be in this position. I have an amazing manager and supervisor,” said Ms. Martinez. “We want to expand upon the great program and make it even greater. And I know that’s possible with our team.”