Senior Center Says Farewell to Beloved Coordinator

Dozens gather to bid farewell to Theresa Odello, who for five years has worked to turn the Malibu Senior Center into the vibrant community it is today. “She’s not going to be easy to replace,” Bernie Beldner of the Senior Center said Tuesday.

One of the City of Malibu’s most beloved employees was honored with a farewell party Tuesday — her last day of work. Theresa Odello, the recreation coordinator for the Malibu Senior Center, became engaged to be married and is leaving her post of five years to move to Colorado Springs, Colo. with her fiancé.

More than 50 people, including the seniors Odello works with and city staff, wished Odello well and said “Goodbye” at the center while munching on refreshments including cookies made by Odello’s mother. While those gathered wished Odello the best in her new endeavors, emotions were decidedly bittersweet since she has been credited with turning the Senior Center into a vibrant place for the elderly in Malibu to learn, try new activities and forge friendships.

Odello is credited with launching innovative and creative programs and activities at the center including outreach opportunities like the AARP’s Safe Driver Program, health screenings and money planning. Educational lectures concerning downsizing homes, back pain relief and Alzheimer’s awareness have also been offered, as well as partnerships with Emeritus College to provide enrichment classes in poetry, creative writing, autobiography and drawing. Recently launched programs include Relax Through Coloring, Spanish for Memory, Caregiver Support Group, End of Life Discussion and Senior Aerobics. Under Odello’s leadership, participation rates at the Senior Center increased from 4,000 visits in 2011 to 14,000 in 2016.

Odello offered something for everyone, reminiscing, “I started the Wellness Expo with service providers for the senior community. People can get resources for Meals on Wheels, caregivers, to even a crystal healer — but the luncheons and anniversary parties were highlights. 

“We have a lot of fun at the luncheons,” she continued. “It’s a neat time to get everybody together — it’s social. It’s a great time for old friends to talk and for people who are new to just sit at a smaller table and learn what activities they like. It was fun to do that. It was a lot of prep, but it paid off in happy times.”

That was echoed by member John Honigsfeld, who had nothing but praise for Odello.

“She made the Senior Center work,” Honigsfeld said. “She made great parties. She had great entertainment. I have to hand it to her. She’s very popular here.”

“Theresa has been a wonderful leader,” City Recreation Assistant Rebecca Ramos reflected. “She’s built up all the programs here and it’s just been wonderful having a boss like her.” 

Bryanna Edwards, another assistant, agreed.

“Theresa will definitely be missed,” Edwards said. “Those are big shoes to fill. She gave me confidence in my job. I appreciate everything she did for me.”

Odello started working for the City of Malibu back in 2000 and opened the Senior Center in 2003. She left in ‘05 to get a master’s degree in recreation and tourism and came back in February 2012. She’s spent 10 years in total working for the city, saying, “It’s been a lot of fun.” Seniors agreed.

“Theresa is one terrific person who is dedicated to making senior lives more enriched and meaningful through programs and her marvelous personality,” Malibu resident and senior Ellie Somerfield said.

“I’m sad to be leaving. We’ve really developed this program with the staff that we have and the participants that give us support. It keeps a good atmosphere around here. It’s with a saddened heart that I’m leaving,” Odello said. “I appreciate all the support of the seniors. It’s a really good department to work for.”

Odello said that, though she’s leaving, the center — and parks department — would be in good hands.

“Parks and recreation is just expanding. We’ve got a dynamic new director in Jesse Bobbett. I see high hopes in him that he will be very strong for the department and he will find a great replacement for me,” Odello said. “I support him in leading our department again. I’m happy about that.” 

Odello’s replacement hasn’t been hired yet, but a new person should be in place by mid-March according to Amy Crittenden, City of Malibu recreation manager.

“We are going to miss Theresa,” Crittenden remarked. “We wish her all the happiness in her future life. She has absolutely turned the Senior Center into an incredibly successful and very busy program area for our department. When she came in, we were struggling to keep the programs going and she just completely turned it around. It’s going to be hard to replace her. Also, the seniors are going to miss her. But we wish her all the best.”