‘We are a Senior Center with a confusing name’

  • John Zon Center STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 5/21/2019 8:41:37 AM

I feel it’s very important to clear up misconceptions and provide some education regarding the Greenfield Senior Center, aka Jon Zon Community Center.

The Council on Aging mission, as stated in the City Charter, reads as follows: “Greenfield Council on Aging provides educational, recreational, and cultural programs, social service and healthy lifestyle support, and volunteer opportunities, fostering independence and encouraging meaningful community engagement for people age 55+ at Greenfield Senior Center.”

Greenfield COA has four staff to run the center: three full-time, one part-time, for a Department total of 3.8 FTE. The City of Greenfield pays for 2.3 FTE. The senior Center director writes grants to cover the shortfall of 1.5 FTE, which total over $70,000 per year. There is no guarantee that these grants will continue to be available. The COA/Senior Center could not operate on the 2.3 FTEs paid for by the City.

COA staff designs and implements seven hours/day, five days/week, 51 weeks/year programming for elders. Senior center programming is weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If outside groups bump elders from their regular programs, the mission of the COA cannot be fulfilled.

The Charter of the City of Greenfield says that “The COA has management of the Senior Center.” There is no Community Center in the Charter, nor is there a community center budget or staff. The number of Senior Center programs have doubled since we opened. Senior Center staff is already stretched beyond anything reasonable. Adding “community center” scheduling to an already burdened management situation has been unfair both to staff and to the seniors who count on the senior center for so many of their needs.

The building known as JZCC was designed and built to be a senior center. We needed a new senior center because we were unable to continue to properly serve our rapidly growing population of over 55 citizens in the old facility; 25 percent of the citizens of Greenfield are 60 years of age or older.

It was reduced in size from our original design when the City Council erroneously proposed that such a cut would save the city money. From that point on it was no longer the appropriate size for the Greenfield. It doesn’t have adequate parking (67 spaces now, down from 80), nor activity space.

Today we have 2,000 members, up from 1,500 at the Weldon. More seniors want to participate in programs than there are spaces for them. When other groups use the building during Senior Center hours, programs that seniors count on are canceled, creating a cascade of issues for Senior Center staff and distress for the seniors who count on these programs for exercise, intellectual stimulation, conversation, friendship and community. These conflicts divert us from our mission, as stated in the City Charter.

In order for the building to be used as a community center, the city must create a policy to facilitate the use of the building as such, complete with adequate staff to book and re-book appointments, field daily inquiries about use of the building, make the appropriate arrangements, train users to use the sophisticated door hardware, move furniture without breaking it and so forth. To do this, our small Senior Center staff has added a burdensome total of six hours/week, even though those duties are not in their job descriptions. Naming a building but not staffing it to be what it has been named is ridiculous.

A teen center/community center has never gotten off the ground in Greenfield. We have a 160,650-square-foot high school serving fewer than 500 students. How much of that space was supposed to be available for community use? How is it that our 9,800-square-foot Senior Center, serving 2,000 individual seniors, is expected to be used as the city’s community center during our working hours?

I hope this information is clarifying. We are not a community center. We are a Senior Center with a confusing name. It is up to the city to staff and program the building after four and on weekends, thereby creating a multi-use building useful to all of Greenfield.

Ginger Carson is a member of the Greenfield Council on Aging.

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