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Some members of the recently appointed Senior Citizen Task Force have set their sights in the Town Hall Annex for a new senior center, and they’re not happy that the town isn’t quickly moving toward that goal. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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Upset with a perceived lack of town progress to help its senior citizens, an independent group has set its sights on potentially finding a way to turn the Town Hall Annex into a senior center. Meanwhile, the town is asking for patience on the issue.
In late 2018, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) established the Senior Citizen Task Force to identify issues that affect the town’s senior residents, as well as to reach out to those people to discover any` concerns. As a first step in that process, the task force conducted a survey to gauge the needs and interests of the town. The task force is prepared to share those results with the BOS later this month.
However, frustrations boiled over and some task force members recently stormed out of a meeting, angry with what they felt is lack of commitment toward developing a senior center in the town.
Aldea Savva was one of the members who left the task force meeting and has formed what she called “a rogue group” committed to the idea getting a senior center in Clinton. Savva said her group has a solution in mind: using the Town Hall Annex, located next to the Town Hall, as a senior center.
When the Town Hall Annex was renovated more than five years ago, there was talk about using the space for senior residents, however the move never materialized.
Bethany Knight, a member of the task force who` supports Savva’s movement, pointed out that the while the town has put time and money into sprucing up other facilities, the town is not showing the same amount of commitment to the seniors. Knight said that some have called it the “shame of Clinton” that the town doesn’t have a dedicated senior center, but does have a dog park.
“I’m sure concerned citizens in Clinton would donate their time or money toward moving from not having a senior center being the shame of Clinton, to making having one the pride of Clinton,” said Savva.
The Case for a Center
“In order for seniors to stay in their own home and to keep up their mental acuity, the two things they need are socialization and structured activity, which is what a senior enter will give our seniors,” Savva said.
At the June 26BOS meeting, Savva and about a dozen senior center supporters attended, with some speaking to make their case for a center to the selectmen.
The town pays $51,000 to the Estuary Council of Seniors, an Old Saybrook-based organization that works in a variety of ways to support seniors in the towns of Chester, Clinton, Essex, Deep River, Killingworth, Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook. Savva said the town should instead use that money to help pay for any staffing or programing needs that would be required to make the annex into a functioning senior center with more meals and amenities.
Savva noted that other shoreline communities have senior centers with what she described as friendly, welcoming environments and amenities such as pool rooms, varied activity programs, and spacious food areas. Some of the centers organize trips for the seniors to go on, and provide transportation to and from the centers.
In Clinton, the Town Hall Annex is made available for seniors one day a week for a lunch program. Savva said the annex is uninviting when compared to the other centers. As an example, she highlighted that while other towns have large welcome areas for people to wait in, the annex has only uncomfortable folding chairs, and often not enough of them.
Additionally, the room in which the meal is served in is also used for storage and Meals on Wheels preparation, which makes the room cramped and unappealing, according to Savva. As a result, Savva said that several people she knows travel to towns like Guilford or Madison to use the services offered in those locations.
First Selectmen Christine Goupil said that besides the senior meal and the Meals on Wheels preparation, the annex currently houses the town’s Social Services and Information Technology departments and is also used for tai chi classes.
Savva and her supporters argue that annex would be a perfect location for a senior center.
“It’s the only place in town we could move right in,” Savva said.
Proponents of the move argue that there are no renovations that need to be done to the building, and that the Social Services Department could be moved to other locations, such as the schools.
The Task Force
Savva and Knight said they became angry with the methodical process the BOS-endorsed task force is following, and that they task force was dismissive of their concerns.
“It was made very clear to us that they had no interest in fighting for a senior center,” said Savva.
Phyllis McGrath and Elizabeth Goldstein, the co-chairs of the task force, adamantly denied that they are against a senior center coming to town.
“We certainly support the concept of a bricks-and-mortar senior center. We don’t have an issue with a senior center and the BOS should know quite a few seniors want one,” said Goldstein.
The co-chairs noted that while they support the idea of a center, there is a process the town has to follow to make a center a reality - and that process takes time.
As an example, McGrath said that moving the Social Services Department would not be the simple move that some make it out to be, and cited significant costs that would be needed for maintenance and personnel.
McGrath said that solely pursuing a senior center was not the mandate given to the task force; instead, the group works to consider everything from hosing concerns, to transportation needs, to the available programs for seniors.
Goldstein, who is also a board member of the Estuary Council of Seniors, argued that cutting the funding to the estuary could have substantial effects on people who rely on the service. Goldstein said that per the latest figures from the council, between July 2017 and June 2018, 11,681 meals were provided to home-bound people in Clinton alone, as well as 921 meals provided at the annex.
According to Goldstein, “The $51,000 principally covers the cost of providing home-bound and congregate meals that are not already covered by Title III grants and client donations. For each home-bound meal, Title III grants cover 49.9 percent, client donations cover 16.7 percent, and the rest of the cost per meal, 33.43 percent, is donated by the Town of Clinton. For each congregate meal, the percentages are 53.4 percent, 16.22 percent, and 30.41 percent respectively.”
Where the two factions do agree is that the town needs to do more to help the senior population. The latest census data says that almost 19 percent Clinton’s population is senior citizens.
“Our message to the BOS is to get some skin in the game. This is a significant part of the population,” said Goldstein.
McGrath and Goldstein said that a bigger push is needed to make people aware of the services that are offered at locations in town.
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