December 8, 2021

Senior centers seek new ways to stay open

seniors feeding duck illustration

Communities across Cortland County are developing plans to run senior centers as the county considers consolidating its centers into one facility.

Alice Barned, 84, of Cortlandville, has volunteered at the Homer senior center for years and worries the senior center she goes to will never be the same.

“Everyone is anxious to get back together and see each other, and do the things we’ve missed because of the pandemic,” Barned said Thursday. “But the centers will never be what they once were. I would prefer to be at our center.”

An ad hoc committee of the county’s Health And Human Services Committee has proposed to the county one of four models consolidating senior centers countywide into one location in Cortland and creating community-operated centers to serve as satellite sites.

Neither Haskins nor Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland), chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, could be reached to comment.

In April, Elizabeth Haskins, director of the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging, gave a presentation to county legislators, saying the county spends more money per capita for services for the elderly — such as providing meals — than neighboring counties, while clients typically visited the senior centers only once or twice a week.

If the county chooses to implement the central hub model, senior centers in outlying areas would then need to be run by other organizations.

The central hub would be open three hours a day on weekdays, staffed by Cortland County Area Agency on Aging employees and volunteers, the April presentation suggests. The model’s plan includes nutrition programs, health and wellness or growth activities through the Agency on Aging and partner agencies, support services and accessible transportation.

Barned said that she doubts any of her Homer center friends would use the free transportation to visit the Cortland hub.

“People don’t have their families nearby, so they’ve become family,” she said. “The Homer senior center is our center — somewhere else, it wouldn’t be the same.”

But the Cortland senior center, a central location is a step up. The Cortland senior center has been in search of a new home since November, when its space in the Cortland County Office Building was converted to a new entry.

As COVID restrictions lifted, the Cortland senior center has had activities and social meetings in venues across the city, including the St. Charles Hotel and the Cortland American Legion.

“Everybody’s excited to get out and see each other,” said club President Sharon Lanphear. “We’re anxious to have our own place, but for right now, we’re extremely happy for what we do have, and both venues have been wonderful to us.”

Lanphear said she understands that smaller towns and villages might have a harder time keeping their senior centers, but she’s trying to stay positive.

“The reopening is probably the biggest thing we’re looking for, because right now we have our seniors kind of tucked away in various places playing shuffleboard and billiards, and meetings at another location,” said Gary Mead, president of the Cortland City Senior Council. “These are all things that normally happened at the senior center, and they all want to get back together in one location.”

Senior clubs and councils have been kept up to date, Mead said.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise to a lot of people that these changes are coming,” he said, but the decisions lie with the Legislature. “We’re all waiting on them.”