Howell Senior Center welcomes new director

Staff Writer

HOWELL — While the Howell Senior Center will welcome a new face to the facility, it will be somewhat bittersweet as the community’s seniors bid farewell to a director who worked with them for 26 years.

Carol Zur, the director of senior services, retired on Dec. 31. She will be succeeded by Melanie Decker.

Decker, a native of Howell who now resides in Jackson, received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Richard Stockton College in 2001 and a master’s degree in counseling from The College of New Jersey in 2004. Decker is a licensed professional counselor.

Before coming to Howell, Decker was the residential program manager and a clinical coordinator for SERV Centers of New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that assists adults who have mental illness; the director at Monmouth Partial Care, also serving adults who have mental illness; and a care manager consultant for the Office of the Public Guardian.

Decker said relationships are important when working with senior citizens and she said she enjoys the work she has done so far.

“I greatly enjoy working with this age range. The senior population is unique and they have their own set of needs that have to be met, so having a relationship with them is key,” she said.

“I am in this for the long run and I am not here to make changes to anything Carol did just for the sake of doing so.

“Carol has laid the groundwork for so many things I will continue to have here and expand upon, and I think it is important for me to observe and see what is working so our participants can continue to enjoy the senior center,” Decker said.

She said increasing the number of lectures and healthcare screenings for seniors is a goal.

“Whether it is social activities or not, for some of our seniors this is all they have, so it is important when they are here for my staff and I to make them feel at home and welcomed,” Decker said.

Zur said, “The best advice I can give to Melanie is to be honest, caring, accepting of and patient with the people we serve. I am very confident she will be successful and a great asset to the township.

“I am going to miss working and having direct contact with the senior citizens in our township, my staff and the community to improve the quality of life of our participants. I have referred to what we have been able to accomplish over the years as small miracles,” Zur said.

Zur graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1975 and received her certified social work license when she moved to New Jersey and started her career as a social worker.

Before working with senior citizens, Zur worked with children in foster care and in the court system. She said working with older adults always interested her.

“My focus since I was a junior in high school has been working with senior citizens. When I volunteered in nursing homes and for Meals on Wheels programs, I knew this was the population I wanted to serve,” Zur said.

Zur said one of her proudest accomplishments in Howell was starting the Just in Thyme Senior Cupboard, which provides needed supplies to seniors who are economically challenged.

“Not only do we provide items similar to those in other pantries, but we also provide items that are specific to the needs of the recipients, such as cleaning supplies and dietary restricted food,” she said.

With the assistance of her staff, Zur implemented aerobic activities at the senior center, and ran arts and crafts classes for the community’s older adults.

“Another project I am very proud of is setting up the Tangled Thread knitting and crochet class. With the help of some very talented seniors and generous donations, our class participants make beautiful items that are donated to people and organizations in and around the community,” she said.

In retirement, Zur said, she plans to travel, visit family members who live out of state, do volunteer work and relax a bit.