Workgroup committed to saving senior organization

RACHEL KELLER COLLINS/The Tribune-Courier

Approximately 20 people followed Ken Lewis (far right) through a tour of the Marshall County Senior Citizens building on Golf Course Road in Benton last week. The group, which consists of local leaders from local government including Benton Mayor Rita Dotson (front center), Benton Councilwoman Ann Riley (just behind Dotson) and Hardin Mayor Randal Scott (far left), were joined by community members representing local churches, businesses and civic organizations with the goal of saving the organization.

The building occupied by the senior citizens group since the 1970s has been mostly bare for a couple of months following the county's decision to drastically cut the funding on which the group relied for survival. But last week, about 20 people seated in metal chairs arranged in a circle spent nearly two hours discussing new beginnings, new directions and fresh ideas for revitalizing an organization that is cherished by residents in their golden years.

Greg Carlton, who retired from Peel and Holland, and Jason Jones of CFSB led the meeting attended by people who both reside and work in Marshall County, representing a varied demographic including local government, first responders, churches, community health professionals and local media.

After a brief introduction of those attending, Carlton asked Judge-Executive Kevin Neal to share information regarding funding for the group. Neal told the group that during the fiscal court meeting the day before, members approved a list of nonprofit grants and awarded $30,000 to the Marshall County Senior Citizens group (which encompasses Benton and Calvert City). The Hardin Senior Citizens group received $7,500. He said the money would be disbursed monthly in $2,000-$3,000 increments instead of one lump sum because if the effort to revive the organization "falls through" before the year is out, the fiscal court could redistribute the remaining funds elsewhere.

Ken Lewis, chairman of the senior citizens group, said it owed McCracken County Senior Citizens $6,000 for the 'Meals On Wheels' distributed in June so the first two checks would go directly to paying that debt.

One major change discussed by the group was merging the Hardin group with the Benton and Calvert City group. Lewis said each of the three cities used to have its own group but several years ago, Benton and Calvert City merged due to limited funding. But it's been successful, he said, reporting that at least half of the membership travels from Calvert City to Benton each day the group meets.

Hardin Mayor Randal Scott, who is also a member of the Hardin Senior Citizens board of directors, said it's not a popular idea with their membership, but they recognize the funding would streamline better if they all worked together.

"At the center in Hardin, we struggle every year to make it. Our people who come regularly, when you talk about moving they don't like it but I've looked at it and from a financial standpoint and on paper, I honestly think it would make sense for us to combine," he said. "But if we do, it's going to be a huge step for us. I don't know how it's going to be received as far as those who come."

Carlton and Jones said that transition can be an ongoing conversation and they'll begin looking into how to make that work.

The other topics the group discussed included rebranding--coming up with a new name that's more inviting to a larger crowd, and maybe a touch more modern. They discussed a number of ideas for events which will get the organization more involved with the community at large, which will result in the community at large becoming more involved with the organization. They discussed a number of grants available that will help fund a much-needed face-lift on the building--and they're going to look into the lease agreement with the county, which owns the building they rent, and see which repairs are their responsibilities and which are the responsibility of the county. They also talked about restructuring the board in such a way that there would be five voting members in an executive committee, but a larger workgroup committee that serves as an advisory council as well as an action committee.

Along the lines of maintenance to the building, Benton Mayor Rita Dotson said she had spoken with someone from TVA who is going to come conduct a free assessment of the building to see what they can do to cut down on the electric costs.

"We're looking for a cross-section, grassroots movement. The idea is that no one here wants to take over the group, we just want to help," Carlton said. "We're just making some recommendations and getting the county attorney involved to help keep it legal."

"It's going to take all of us coming together to do this," Jones added. "It's great seeing this many people here for this first meeting, and then you think about all the people you each can reach and getting fingers into all aspects of the community and I think we can accomplish that, definitely."

The group has decided to meet weekly for now and at some point will transition to monthly meetings. They will meet at 9 a.m. each Wednesday at 1713 Golf Course Road in Benton. Anyone interested in getting involved may contact Carlton at 270-703-1640 or Jones at 270-703-0751.

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