Saturday, May 31, 2008

Good editorial on Senior Center in Northwest Arkansas Times on May 31, 2008
Times Editorial : Senior moments
Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Saturday, May 31, 2008
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Senior citizens often get a bad rap in America. Popular sitcoms like "Seinfeld "or "The Simpsons"portray old folks as feeble, and maybe even a little crazy. Sure, we titter - but the truth is that we're looking at ourselves a couple of decades down the line (if we're lucky enough to get there at all ). Laugh at your own expense.

Which is a way of saying that our elders deserve our respect. They are, after all, the folks who came before us. Everything today's 20-, 30-, 40- and 50-somethings believe to be so, so important, the older generation was taking care of years ago. The folks who today reside in nursing homes and retirement villages helped make the United States into the superpower it is today. Everywhere we turn, we owe them. So it behooves us to listen to them. Regardless of being polite, doing so is the right thing to do.

Having said all that, the strife apparent at the Fayetteville Senior Center has us scratching our heads. A May 6 get-together between clients at the center and officials charged with operating the facility nearly brought some key figures to blows. Next came reports that the Fayetteville Senior Center's "site council"was being reorganized, which only frustrated some elderly clients further still. And then we hear a couple weeks ago that a handful of regular visitors just might be banned unless they promise not to gossip and engage in other disruptive behavior.

Just take a look at this incomplete list of complaints to get an idea of what's being alleged these days: slamming doors, rattling windows, pettiness, rudeness, lying, being pushed around, being ignored, being spied on, staff treating seniors like kindergartners, seniors'objections to supplying tea and coffee, white boards instead of bulletin boards, questions over who gets to open the suggestion box...

Besides the war of words that's broken out between Kaye Curtis, director of senior services for the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District Inc., and a handful of elderly who resent her "meddling," one wonders what's going on at the Fayetteville Senior Center that's leading to so many hurt feelings and so much disruption.

Fayetteville's Stella Farrar - one of the individuals receiving letters regarding their supposed disruptive behavior - had this to say to the Northwest Arkansas Times: "It's a beautiful center, but we don't feel like it's a friendly home environment with all the harassment, abuse and stalking we have to encounter. "Strong language. Perhaps too strong. But indicative of some ongoing issues.

Listen, in a world of an Iraq war and debates over new high schools and peace in the Middle East, what happens at one senior center doesn't seem to amount to much. But for a lot of the people in the sunset of their lives, these senior centers become vitally important links to their community, to their continued physical and mental health, and to their need to socialize.

And the folks who run the senior centers should (and we believe do ) want the senior citizens to feel exactly that way about their senior center.

What has bothered us is the amount of blame paid staff members have appeared to lay at the feet of disgruntled senior citizens for the disruptions at the Fayetteville center. That, it seems, is to be an expected part of dealing with elderly folks, and it seems the folks contracted to operate senior centers would be better prepared to effectively engage their clients in productive discourse.

To be sure, some pettiness can be expected, but our senior citizens deserve to be treated with the utmost care and respect. That doesn't mean their complaints have to be accepted at face value - some are clearly personal conflicts - but it does mean the people hired to make the senior centers work must find ways to make them work for the senior citizens who come through the door.

The job of working together with the seniors to find solutions and smooth relations belongs to the center director, staff and the leadership of the organization hired to administer the programs. They must take responsibility for taking care of these concerns.

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