Do-it-all facilitator MacMellon leaving Amherst Senior Center

Helen MacMellon is presented with a citation from the House of Representatives for her years of public service working with seniors by state Rep. Mindy Domb during her retirement party last Friday at the Bangs Community Center.

Helen MacMellon is presented with a citation from the House of Representatives for her years of public service working with seniors by state Rep. Mindy Domb during her retirement party last Friday at the Bangs Community Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, right, presents Helen MacMellon with a citation from the House of Representatives for her years of public service working with seniors during her retirement party Friday at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, right, presents Helen MacMellon with a citation from the House of Representatives for her years of public service working with seniors during her retirement party Friday at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

People gather for the retirement party for Helen MacMellon, right, who is retiring from her time as a social worker and program director at the Amherst Council on Aging, on Friday at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

People gather for the retirement party for Helen MacMellon, right, who is retiring from her time as a social worker and program director at the Amherst Council on Aging, on Friday at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Helen MacMellon, left, who is retiring from her time as a social worker and program director at the Amherst Council on Aging, talks with Phyllis Lehrer and state Rep. Mindy Domb during her retirement party Friday at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

Helen MacMellon, left, who is retiring from her time as a social worker and program director at the Amherst Council on Aging, talks with Phyllis Lehrer and state Rep. Mindy Domb during her retirement party Friday at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-05-2024 9:11 PM

AMHERST — Scarcity of appointments for COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021 and technological challenges for senior citizens prompted Amherst Senior Center staff to get up at midnight or 3 a.m. as slots opened up, ensuring local seniors could get their shots as soon as possible.

“To get them to clinics, we would book vaccine appointments in the middle of the night,” says Helen MacMellon, the senior center’s social worker and program manager, reflecting on many sleepless nights for her, former Senior Center Director Mary Beth Ogulewicz and then-administrative assistant Jennifer Reynolds.

By that April, they and others, called “vax angels,” had made more than 1,200 vaccine appointments for Amherst seniors.

As MacMellon completes her 12th year at the Amherst Council on Aging, splitting time as a social worker and a program manager, she is retiring.

Though MacMellon expects to remain in the field and continue serving senior citizens — as she has for the past 32 years, starting out in the home care field in the Boston area and then throughout the Pioneer Valley — she is taking a step back, even as she continues to enjoy interacting with people.

“You never know about who will come in and what their problem is,” MacMellon said. “It’s never boring.”

When state Rep. Mindy Domb was executive director of the Amherst Survival Center, she got to know MacMellon. “She’s really a magician who knows how to do social work,” Domb said at a recent going away party for MacMellon.

She recounted MacMellon’s use of a “magic wand” to get an apartment for a homeless veteran living in the woods in Pelham.

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Those who who have worked alongside MacMellon also praise her.

Diana Wheeler, the senior center’s administrative assistant, said her anxiety was eased by her. “She’s really been a genuine soul and a wonderful person to me,” Wheeler said.

“I’m going to miss her,” said Debora Bridges, who curates the Civil War tablets exhibit and got assistance from MacMellon when she returned to her hometown a few years ago. “She helps so many people.”

Senior Center Director Hayley Bolton said MacMellon is an incredible asset to the center, helping to steer operations during COVID-19.

“We’re all sad to see her go but wishing her a very happy and well-deserved retirement,” Bolton said. “Her dedication to serving older adults is palpable. She has an incredible talent for communication. We have a running joke at the center that Helen can transcend any language barrier.”

Ogulewicz described MacMellon’s skills as helping people age with dignity, having a deep knowledge of culture and resources, and a nuanced ability to understand when and how to support someone as their needs change.

MacMellon, 72, came to Amherst with her husband, Alan Rubin, a longtime public defender from the Boston area. Both fell in love with the region, she said, for its natural beauty and lower cost of living. MacMellon began working in Amherst in 2012, hired by then-director Nancy Pagano in a part-time role assisting Program Director Maura Plante, after previously working for the Easthampton Council on Aging.

She also worked for programs administered by WestMass ElderCare in Holyoke. One of her favorite memories was in the mid-1990s partnering with Jeff Harness, Cooley Dickinon Hosptial’s chief community relations and communications officer, on the Prostate Cancer Awareness Program put together by a Department of Public Health grant. With WestMass ElderCare, Highland Valley Elder Services in Northampton and Greater Springfield Senior Services, a speakers bureau was formed and she would meet with a variety of people, including Black families in Springfield, Latino families in Holyoke and rural families in Plainfield.

“It was great working with different cultures and communities,” MacMellon said.

MacMellon also handled “Aging Across the Spectrum” through a Highland Valley grant, which included a caregivers support group, a grief support group and an LGBTQ social club.

As she plans to continue doing some work, MacMellon said in retirement she will have a better balance between work and play, and more free time, including joining a Wednesday morning hiking club.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.