8/22/2013 3:23:00 PM Volunteers welcome to support
senior center on the rebound
by DENISE MARTIN When county commissioners voted 3-2 to de-fund the senior center in North Branch, pulling $30,000 that county taxpayers had been putting into the center annually, many predicted this to be the death knell for the center. In hindsight maybe it was just the impetus the organization needed. The senior center’s rebound in response to that financial setback is nothing short of inspirational. A lot has happened at the center the past several months but more effort lies ahead. The public is being encouraged to get involved. Volunteers are welcome whether for one day a week-- or for one hour. If you can help answer phones, clean, vacuum, assist at dances or lend a hand for activities, call and leave your contact info. An active core group of senior citizens has stepped forward, and 14 volunteers are now overseeing the center as the Chisago County Board of Aging.
Not long ago just a couple of members were on this Board. At their meeting last week there was a feeling of possibility as re-organization takes shape and new partners are coming out of the woodwork. The Board of Aging members unanimously agreed last week to re-instate the noon meals at the center at a reduced rate (per meal) from what was charged last year. Sharon Thompson, chef for Taher Dining, the North Branch school district food service provider, explained that Taher will provide the meals at the same $3.75 it charged last year. Thompson did not know why the meal price charged by former staff at the center went to $4.75. Board members saw no reasoning behind the additional $1 and some even felt that it may have been a deterrent. The catered mid-day meals, expected to be starting in September, will cost $3.75. The program will have to see an average daily diner participation of 35 a day, Thompson added. With fewer meals it isn’t cost-effective for Taher to transport the hot food from the high school to the center.
Tell your friends, bring a buddy to eat at the center and help get the numbers up. Taher develops a senior menu a month ahead based on ingredients it will need for student meals, but the senior dining menu is not the school lunch menu. There’s also a chance a new contract can be negotiated with Catholic Charities. The non-profit previously rented the senior center kitchen to set-up its equipment for preparing on-site dining offerings and package meals-on-wheels for delivery. But, Catholic Charities was hit with a rent hike, not fully authorized by the Board, for 2012-13 that it was unable to afford. Last week Board members checked meeting minutes from around October, and there was a motion noted for a rent hike indexed to cost-of-living. The Board also voted to allow Catholic Charities to use the center for serving (not cooking) meals if the kitchen lease was unacceptable -- but apparently staff unilaterally boosted the lease adding fees for trash hauling, utilities and rejected Catholic Charities alternative request just to serve at the senior center and cook elsewhere. (Other Board members said they heard staff wasn’t involved in the charities decision to exit.)
Oak Inn Restaurant filled the gap when Catholic Charities rejected the lease hike -- and the North Branch restaurant partnered with regional agencies providing meals for the elderly through a voucher system. Senior diners can get meal tickets at Associated Bank and redeem them at the restaurant. The Oak Inn dining program continues on a one year contract at least through 2013, the Board was told. The senior center Board then passed a motion to re-open talks with Catholic Charities to see if some form of nutrition program can be developed at the senior center for 2014. New collaboration The coordinator for Family Pathways senior services also attended last week’s Board meeting. Susan Taylor said she’d love to use the senior center for a few hours each week as a satellite office for client outreach.
The senior center is handicap accessible and central to the county population, and Taylor envisions it “as a hub for all things senior services.” The Board set-up a meeting with Family Pathways that will also include the Maple Commons apartment building owners, Ecumen, for August 22, with the goal of expanding usage of the facility. (Ecumen and the senior center board are in year 11 of a 30-year lease through which the ground floor of Maple Commons is dedicated space for a senior center.) More positive news reported at the Board meeting is that the senior center kitchen has been state-certified with a license granted provisionally through the end of 2013. It was also reported that office expenses have been trimmed by a few hundred dollars monthly, based on judicious review of the budget by volunteer office manager Diane Youngquist. (The former fulltime senior center coordinator and her assistant have resigned.)
Relatively painless cuts being implemented include having senior center U.S. mail delivered to the apartment building and eliminating a post office box, said Youngquist. Four phone lines were reduced to two. The newsletter won’t be printed commercially, they’ll use the senior center office copier, saving at least $150 monthly. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Re-organizing One of the Board’s by-laws revision committee members, Dick Scheele, gave an overview of proposed changes for members to study. Changes could be voted on at the Sept. meeting. The non-profit’s annual organizational meeting is held in October and that’s when elections are also held. Monthly Board meetings are proposed to switch to the third Tuesday under the by-law revisions. The meetings now are third Thursday. It is proposed there be four officers: president, vice pres, treasurer and secretary and nine seated at-large.
To start with a “clean slate” half will serve two years and half would have one year terms so they can have staggered elections from now on. The general public age 60 or older is welcome to express interest in becoming involved in the Chisago County Board of Aging. Volunteers can be any age and they do not have to be Board members.