How Two Exemplary Citizens Take On Aging
›› Making Change: Isobel Broadhurst
Isobel Broadhurst says she is often described as someone who was “born asking questions.” Specifically, when her son, Tony, was born with Down’s syndrome in 1954, Broadhurst wondered, “What more could be done to create a positive and rewarding life for him?” “There weren’t many social opportunities for special needs children then,” she explains.
So Broadhurst took things into their own hands. She founded several recreational programs for those with special needs, starting with “The Faith Express” in 1971, a Catholic-themed program that still meets regularly in Broadhurst’s home. “We have discussions, play games and do puzzles,” she says. In 1974, Broadhurst launched another initiative for young adults with special needs, “The Drop-In Center,” offering activities such as “exercise, a pool table, music, dancing, and more,” Broadhurst explains. The program, which takes place at The Beanery, was adopted by the Fairfield Recreation Department in 1980, and is still thriving.
Drawing from this momentum, Broadhurst also initiated two annual events for those with special needs, which have become staples in the greater Fairfield Community, “A Day in the Sun,” and “An Evening with the Stars.” Started 20 years ago, “A Day in the Sun” offers games, prizes and a picnic. “We typically draw about 500 people,” Broadhurst says. This year’s event took place in September at the Fairfield Senior Center. Broadhurst says this annual tradition is the culmination of a large community effort, including the police and fire department, who cook the hot dogs and hamburgers. “I never do anything alone,” Broadhurst explains. “I have so many wonderful volunteers.”
“A Night with the Stars,” a semi-formal dinner dance for those with special needs, which began in 2005, is held at the Easton Community Center each spring. “We have a red carpet for them to walk down,” she says. “They are the stars.”
A teacher for 40 years in the Fairfield elementary school system, she also worked as a long-time coach for the Special Olympics, and was an outspoken advocate for a group home in Fairfield, which was named “Broadhurst Manor” in her honor.
Because of her many contributions to her community, Broadhurst was named “Fairfielder of the Year” by the town of Fairfield in 2007. “No matter how old you might be, there is always something positive you can do to help someone,” she says.
Kathy Morehouse, the coordinator of Fairfield Adaptive Recreation, described Broadhurst as “a tireless advocate for individuals with special needs, doing all she can to see that they are provided with every opportunity to grow and experience life. She is a true inspiration.”
Lizabeth Doty’s “Act Two”
Lizabeth Doty describes her philosophy as simple. “If I have ability, I feel obligated to share it with others,” says the 65-year-old Senior Activities Coordinator for the town of Wilton.
Her many, varied abilities have turned the Wilton Senior Center into a thriving hub that has seen sharply increased attendance during her 13 years at the helm. For example, from 2008 to 2014, participating seniors at the Senior Center jumped by almost 50 percent, from 4,811 to 8,737. Doty has also presided over an expansion and facelift for the facility at the Comstock Community Center, in which it has quadrupled in size.
Along with the new space, Doty has overseen the addition of a variety of popular new programs and classes, including yoga, Tai Chi, jewelry making, memoir writing, and special programs such as how to find love in the later years.
Doty’s background as a former teacher and principal, combined with her own temperament, have matched well with the challenges of her job, according to Cathy Pierce, Wilton’s Director of the Department of Social Services. “The position requires a diverse skill set which include strong communication skills, awareness of senior interests and abilities, well developed social, planning and organizational skills and a good sense of humor,” Pierce says. “Wilton is quite fortunate to have Lizabeth Doty in this position because she excels in all of these areas.”
Doty, a Ridgefield resident, is also an instructor in computer skills and knitting at the Ridgefield Continuing Education Department.
Her journey to Ridgefield and Wilton was not an easy one. A native of New Haven, she joined the religious order of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart at 18. Her career as an educator was bookended by two tenures at Our Lady of Pompeii Grammar School in Lower Manhattan. In 1971, during her first year as a teacher, Doty watched the exciting spectacle of the World Trade Towers being built, just four blocks away. After working at various schools throughout the country, Doty returned to Our Lady of Pompeii. She was principal this time, when school started in September 2001.
On that fateful day, a parent told her that a plane had hit one of the towers. They went up to the roof of the school and watched the horrific fireballs and torrents of smoke engulfing the first tower, while another plane suddenly struck the second tower.
“It was the most absolutely horrible and unbelievable sight,” Doty says. During the next few days, the devastation in the area around her school turned it into something akin to “a military zone” she says. “Since I was a religious sister, people were coming up to me and asking me to pray for them.”
The following year Doty left the convent and moved to Ridgefield, where her family lives. She calls this “Act Two” of her life and says she has no plans of retiring anytime soon. “There are so many possibilities, so much room for expansion and enrichment,” she explains.