The Marshall County Senior Citizens board of directors recently voted to close its center in Benton, which served seniors from Benton and Calvert City, after it became apparent the funding on which they've heavily relied from the county would not be available this year. But they're not going away, just regrouping and reorganizing while they navigate a new path for a new direction and change of structure, with a little help.
Last week, approximately 20 people met at Benton City Hall to discuss options and opportunities for keeping the senior citizen group intact by identifying alternative meeting places and managing the remaining assets while assessing the needs and determining a mission and goals. The group of interested parties included Benton Mayor Rita Dotson, several senior citizens who benefit from the organization, a handful of city employees and concerned citizens.
Dotson said she's offered the Joe Creason Community Building in H.H. Lovett Park as a regular meeting place for the seniors and the Marshall County Exceptional Center offered use of a portion of their facility when the community building is booked for other events. In fact, the seniors met at the MCEC yesterday to cook a meal and enjoy fellowship--the first sense of normalcy they've had since late June.
Dotson said among the priorities is a new name for the group, noting there are several people in the area who technically qualify as "seniors" but don't want to associate with an organization branded that way. She said something like "The Center" might help attract a younger crowd that, with new membership, could increase the coffers.
The group is not interested in taking on the Meals on Wheels again in the future, Dotson said, because it was a huge burden that required a tremendous budget. But they do hope to be able to come up with enough funding to support maintenance and ownership of their vehicles for travel and various activities which encourage socializing and building friendships.
Dotson said the seniors took a break last week over the holiday because they were "so disheartened and so tired from fighting." But this week, they're back together and conducting some research with help from those who know which questions to ask, like Brian Roy.
She said Roy has volunteered to work with the seniors on creating a new mission and perhaps tweaking the bylaws now that they're no longer employers or delivering Meals on Wheels; he has also volunteered to speak with Judge-Executive Kevin Neal about the rent the group has already paid on the center for the upcoming year and the potential of the group being able to keep the center on Golf Course Road as a gathering place, noting the previous commissioners (Bob Gold, Johnny Bowlin and Dr. Rick Cocke) created a 30-year lease agreement for the group during the 2017-2018 budget talks.
Dotson said they're also discussing whether or not they'll be able to continue some of the services previously offered to the seniors who were shut-ins like providing rides to the doctor, grocery store and pharmacy.
"We're stepping back and doing some research, looking into other seniors groups and how they get their money and what their missions are," she said. "Ours is kind of in no-man's land right now and we're just trying to help them find their way. We don't know what's going to evolve from here, we're just taking it a day at a time."
"I just feel like our seniors have done their part, they've paid their dues and paid taxes their entire lives and it's time for us to take care of them," she added. "They took care of us, we take care of them. And they want a place of their own and they deserve that. So that's what we're working on."
Jennifer Beck Walker, Director of the Purchase Area Development District (PADD), said meals were delivered last week to the shut-in seniors who rely on them and announced Marshall County as the pilot for a 'virtual senior center.'
For the next year, which was the time remaining of the three-year contract for delivering Meals on Wheels to shut-in seniors by the Marshall County Senior Citizens, Walker said McCracken County Senior Citizens Center, which operates its own Meals on Wheels program, has agreed to provide the home delivery for Marshall County as well.
In addition, Walker said, the PADD has hired a part-time Marshall County Senior Center Director who will be housed at Marcella's Kitchen in Benton and the Marshall County Courthouse. That director will be tasked with supportive services such as daily wellness checks and other federally funded supportive services like health education and health promotion.
Marcella's Kitchen, which has a mission to provide free meals to all the residents of Marshall County in need, regardless of age, race, or financial status, has offered its facility as a place where the seniors may congregate to enjoy meals. Marcella's Kitchen is located at 868 Guy Mathis Drive in Benton and is open from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.