By Sam Jack
Despite the presence of dozens of seniors and senior advocates at a Sedgwick County Commission meeting last Wednesday, Aug. 15, the body rejected a request to boost funding for senior centers by $78,000 for 2019.
The vote was 3-2, with Michael O’Donnell and Jim Howell in favor of increasing funding, and David Dennis, Richard Ranzau and David Unruh opposed.
Had the vote gone the other way, the county’s overall senior center funding would have risen from $620,000 to $698,000. The Haysville Senior Center would have received $22,000 in additional funding, while the Clearwater Senior and Community Center would have received an additional $17,000.
The directors of both those centers said they were disappointed in the county’s decision. Both have been requesting funding boosts for at least the past four years.
Clearwater senior center director Kristi Rey said that her center could have used the additional funding to offer better programming and entertainment, making the center more attractive for the people aged 55 and older who are eligible for a $5 annual membership.
“Though we’re on a limited budget, you want to try and provide as much as possible with little to no cost on their end,” Rey said. “It’s tough, on the budget we have. It’s depressing, it’s upsetting, because we could use that money.”
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Haysville senior center director Kim Landers said that with the funding increase, she had hoped to explore carpools or other transportation options to get more seniors out of their homes and engaged in her center’s programs.
“Loneliness does as much harm to the body as a person smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking three ounces of liquor a day. In order to combat that loneliness, even coming up here three times a week to have a meal with some friends would be a great asset,” she said. “A lot of our members don’t have friends or family that actively participate in their life, and so this is their family.”
“In order to receive the additional $22,000, we have to work at what (the county) calls a ‘multi-purpose center,’ which is a huge increase in educational programs, as well as basic activities and special events,” Landers added. “We’ve been working at that level for quite a long time.”
Clearwater’s community center has also hit targets the county previously tied to an increased funding level.
While the county commission made the final call, Landers said that responsibility for the senior center funding decision also rests with staff of the Sedgwick County Department on Aging.
“They had a list of 15 programs to fund, and the senior centers were at the bottom of the list,” she said. “These (other) programs, a couple do serve seniors before they develop problems and need additional resources. I think you can get more bang for your buck if you start at the senior center level, before people have to go into additional programs that require rehab and nursing help.”