One senior center closes, one fights to stay open

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The Marshall County Senior Citizens group enjoys a Hawaiian-themed party in June in the building they will no longer occupy after Friday. The group hopes to find a new place where they can gather to fellowship over a meal and socialize Monday through Friday each week, but the board began taking official steps toward closure last Thursday.

Friday is the last time the Marshall County Senior Citizens group will gather in the building on Golf Course Road in Benton, where they've shared meals and fellowship five days a week for more than four decades. Ken Lewis, co-chair of the board, said he's not sure where they will go from here; Jennifer Walker, Director of the Purchase Area Development District in Mayfield, said the seniors relying on those meals will still be fed.

Walker said the PADD has a contract with Kentucky to provide federal and state-funded services to the seniors in the eight counties it encompasses and every three years, there's a competitive procurement process to decide who will provide those meals in each county. In Marshall County, that contract has, for more than 25 years, been awarded to the senior center and their independent senior center board. She said they're currently finishing up year two of the three-year contract.

A representative of the Marshall County Senior Citizens called June 14, Walker said, to notify the PADD they were considering closure and asked about the process of official notification. She confirmed the PADD received official notice the morning of June 20 the senior center will close and therefor no longer supply the Meals on Wheels effective June 28.

Walker said because she and her staff had seen in the media there was a possibility of this happening, they reached out to Marshall County Judge-Executive Kevin Neal because the media was reporting he had a plan to feed those seniors who would no longer receive the meals from the senior center and the PADD didn't want to duplicate.

Also at the meeting was Marcella's Kitchen founder, Marcella Perkins, and a few of her board members, Walker said, and they worked up a contingency plan that has been submitted for state approval. Once that drafted plan has been approved, if it's approved, she will be able to discuss the details of the program.

But either way, Walker confirmed, the PADD has to be ready to feed those seniors beginning July 1.

"This is an unfortunate situation but it's not entirely rare, we're not the first ones to have to struggle with this as federal and state dollars dwindle and the ADDs have to step in and figure out how to provide services," she explained. "It gets challenging in rural areas so some ADDs have had to provide the service themselves. What I always prefer is a local delivery service unit because knowing the people and community, that's crucial in working with senior population."

The Marshall County Senior Citizens group is made up of residents from both Benton and Calvert City after the two facilities had to merge approximately four years ago due to budget constraints. In addition to the approximately 15 seniors who regularly enjoyed a meal at the center every day Mon.-Fri., Lewis said they also served at least 50 meals to homebound seniors.

"We're just sad that this happened," Lewis said.

The board officially voted to close the morning of June 20, following the special-called Marshall County Fiscal Court meeting, and Lewis said they're still working out how to disburse the assets. He said the board owns two vans; he said the seniors paid for two of the three of the other vehicles assigned to the senior center but the county is claiming ownership of all three. He said the two in question were, many years ago when the late Judge-Executive Mike Miller was still in office, put in the county's name so the county could help with insurance, but the seniors paid in full for the vehicles.

The building they've occupied since the 1970s was constructed on property the City of Benton donated and construction was funded by grant dollars obtained by Solon Wyatt, Miller and Kenneth Hoover, who made a personal trip to Frankfort to speak with then Gov. Ford to secure it. According to records it was Wyatt who initiated the process when he recognized the need for a gathering place for the county's seniors, which is why the building was named in his honor.

In the south end of the county, the Hardin Senior Citizen group is still fighting to stay open, according to Hardin Mayor Randal Scott, who's also on the board of directors.

"If the funding is not there, we could stay open for a short time but we would basically be able to stay open until the money ran out," he explained. "We've been working on some different types of fundraising and discussed applying for grant dollars from the county to be one of the organizations selected for the Christmas light show in the park and we already have volunteers who have stepped up to volunteer for that event. If we were able to get a fifth of that, and it's a good year and we get $10,000, that would be pushing a little over a third of what we got from the county last year so that wold be tremendous."

Scott said when the county's grant application process began a few years ago, the Hardin seniors group was asking between $35,000-40,000 but this year has asked for just under $30,000. He said they've managed to decrease the needed assistance a little each year. He said they do have one paid employee, a director, who is "paid a whole lot less than she deserves for what she does," who doesn't receive any healthcare or retirement benefits, just a few paid holidays.

The center feeds lunch to the seniors who come every day Monday through Friday, usually averaging about 10 people served but sometimes more. He said the weather often affects the attendance, noting many seniors won't leave home if it's rainy or if there's snow/ice accumulation. He also noted their center isn't affiliated with the PADD so they've never participated in the Meals on Wheels program, so that closure won't affect their members.

Once a month the center hosts a country ham breakfast, which is open to the seniors but it's also open to anyone in the community and designed as a fundraising event to help support the day-to-day operations. The center also hosts a fish fry once a month, which is also open to anyone in the community and designed to generate donations for the center.

Scott said the board is discussing a number of fundraising ideas including utilizing the community center for a music event. But he noted coming up with ideas is easier than executing ideas--they need volunteers and often fundraising events require money to host so they have to decide whether or not to gamble an investment on a fundraiser that may be successful or may further stress their base funding.

"It's not like we're just twiddling our thumbs and waiting," he said. "We're working on ideas and trying to find ways for those ideas to materialize. If we can't generate some quick money once we run out of the funds we've got, we won't have any choice but to close."

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