Monday, June 9, 2008

Times: Senior centers pay bills at expense of staff

Senior centers pay for swelling prices with their staff
BY DUSTIN TRACY Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Monday, June 9, 2008
washco senior center layoffs coming ˜

Amber Berry can feel an impending layoff breathing down her neck.

The director of the Prairie Grove Senior Center said budget cuts have rendered her position expendable and the center will become a satellite facility for the Lincoln Senior Center.

“ According to (the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District and the Area Agency on Aging ), we’re not bringing enough money to support my salary, ” Berry said.

She said she is expected to raise $ 12, 000 a month through various fundraisers to support the center, an almost impossible task with gas prices pushing up the price of everything else.

“ We had three fundraisers in April, ” she said. “ The best fundraiser we’ve had was a Mother’s Day breakfast. ”

It netted $ 350.

Alongside multiple fundraisers to pull money out of a community also paying high prices, Berry said, the center is also asking senior citizens to whom it serves lunch to make a $ 2 donation.

“ We average $ 1. 84 for each meal, ” she said. “ The home-delivered meals get even less. ”

Kaye Curtis, the director of senior services for the economic development district, said the group has no other choice than to make staffing adjustments. Aside from putting the Prairie Grove center in the Lincoln center director’s hands, the district has also cut the Farmington Senior Center director’s hours from eight hours a day to six, she said.

“ Those locations are not bringing in enough people or money to support a fulltime director, ” she said.

Prairie Grove averages 15-20 people and Farmington about 20-30 people on a good day.

Curtis said the state and federal governments only supply the county with 49 percent of the money required to run the seven centers in its boundaries. The centers are responsible for the other 51 percent.

It doesn’t help that gas is flirting with a $ 4 a gallon level, which is also driving up the cost of food.

“ Minimum wage keeps going up as well, ” Curtis said.

Combine that with the high percentage of elderly people in Washington County and something Curtis dubbed as “ the baby boomer effect” (that generation is reaching retirement age ), the funding is not keeping up with the growth.

Curtis said the district must do what it can to keep its costs in line.

Jackie Lonon is the Washington County coordinator for senior services. She’s currently operating the Farmington Senior Center until a permanent part-time director can be hired.

Lonon said dance fundraisers and meal donations help, but raising money in an area with two other centers (Prairie Grove and Lincoln ) is difficult.

“ It’s almost impossible, ” she said.

Sally Metcalf, director of the Lincoln center, said that even though her center is expanding its kitchen, it is still cutting back like every other center.

“(The kitchen funding ) comes from a Community Block Grant and several other grants, ” she said.

She said there may not be an end to the crunch in sight, but she hopes the government ups the funding it’s sending.

“ That would be wonderful, ” she said.

Curtis said there’s nothing definite in the works, but the district is in the process of working with local governments to obtain some funding.

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