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Committee: Expand, improve the Senior Center

The ad hoc Senior Program Advisory Committee met the last time Monday night and finalized a list of 34 recommendations that it hopes will expand and elevate the center for the city’s growing aging population.

The committee drafted the list based on nine “standards of excellence,” which results in 34 objectives to reorganize the city’s Senior Center, committee chair Jackie Bachman said.

Some recommendations — creating a marketing plan, maintain the same level of services and activities at the current center, systemizing outreach, information and referral efforts — were highlighted by members as critical objectives in the discussion Monday night.

“Based on what we gathered from public input in listening sessions and surveys, a marketing plan is very essential,” member Marion Moore said. “As well as keeping activities such as line dance and yoga at the center on Homes Avenue.”

The committee voted to not list them as critical or priorities, leaving the task to a new superintendent. The committee unanimously approved all 34 recommendations. Staff and the committee chair will present the list to the Parks and Recreation Commission to vote on March 26.

“I believe these are all doable recommendations for the parks department and the new superintendent to implement,” member Laura O’Bryon said. “We can achieve all the objectives.”

Parks Director Michael Black also reiterated that parks will operate the Senior Center with the list in mind.

“There won’t be wiggle room for parks to not do them,” Black said. “This is the work of so many people, and we will implement them all.”

Out of 34 recommendations, four of them — on program description and independence as a division, new superintendent, and an advisory board — have been approved by the parks commission.

A member of a group that opposes the reorganization criticized the list of recommendations, saying many of them rely on regional services instead of focusing on those in Ashland.

“What have you done? ... You doubled the budget to achieve not much more than the prior program did,” said Sue Wilson, member of Support Our Seniors. “An Ashland jewel has been tossed away by APRC, and the committee has buried it.”

The list is the result of five months of work from the committee made up of citizen members, experts from related field, two parks commissioners and a city councilor. The parks commission voted to form the committee after receiving a tsunami of backlash from the center’s patrons and community members for approving a preliminary reorganization in August. The vote effectively dismissed the center’s manager of 10 years, Chris Dodson.

The vote also led to a recall effort targeting three parks commissioners, as well as several complaints filed with state agenices and a modification of projected figures in the city’s budget.

At the meeting, Black gave an update of the hiring process of a new superintendent for the Senior Program, which will start being advertised as soon as this week.

“At this point, the budget hasn’t been approved,” Black said of the additional $125,000 needed annually for the proposed personnel level.

Parks plans to modify its budget internally — cut funding other programs — to cover the extra personnel costs the first year, Black said.

“After the first year, we can look at it again and adjust it accordingly,” Black said, adding he appreciates staff in the department “sacrifice” to secure the vision of the ad hoc committee.

The parks commission is also expected to vote on the budget modification at its March meeting.

O’Bryon, also a member of Rogue Valley Council of Governments, presented a program that trains community members as “gatekeepers” to recognize red flags and warning signs of aging, at-risk individuals.

“The program could be empowered with community members by allowing them to play a part in supporting individuals who might need attention,” O’Bryon said, adding participants could be working at local businesses, banks, personal services.

“Gatekeepers are not counselors or social workers,” she added. “They identified red flags and referred that to professional agencies.”

O’Bryon said she will be available to discuss potential partnerships with a new superintendent.

After approving its final list of recommendation, each member gave a brief statements about their experience working on the committee.

“What we recommend here is a good start,” member Anne Bellegia said of the aging community in Ashland. “But this is going to take a lot more than a program staffed and funded by (parks department). It’s is a matter of formulating our own plans for our later years.”

— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.