On any given weekday, the three Fulton County Senior Centers in Salem, Viola and Mammoth Spring, are serving much needed meals and facilitating the priceless opportunity for aging citizens to make a friend.
Although the senior centers provide an invaluable service to Fulton County, it is not always easy for them to continue to keep their doors open.
Connie Godwin, the coordinator for the Fulton County Senior Centers, said every year she worries about whether all three centers will be around in years to come.
"We've been hanging on by a shoe string, and if it were not for the county and local contributions, we wouldn't be here today," Godwin said. "In 2006 and 2007 we were over our budget but managed to pull through with county, fundraising, and city of Salem help."
The centers obtain almost 50 percent of their funding from an organization called White River Area Agency on Aging. Both the Fulton County Council on Aging, the council that retains a board over the senior centers, and the WRAAA are non-profit, private organizations dedicated to serving local seniors. WRAAA contracts a pre-determined amount of money to the senior centers each year.
Last year, the Fulton County Aging Program received a total of $41,702 from WRAAA for services like daily meals at the centers, home delivered meals, socialization and transportation. The centers actually spent $53,537, $11,835 over their contracted budget.
"We go over budget each year because we don't turn anyone away," Godwin said.
Each year the center's directors must make up the additional funds in order to retain all three locations.
Expenses not covered by WRAAA are paid for with funds from Fulton County, fundraisers, meals bought by the seniors and miscellaneous avenues of obtaining extra funds.
All three of the senior centers receive a portion of the $36,500 of funding provided by Fulton County and the $24,726 collected from seniors eating at the center. Meals cost $2 per senior.
For the Salem Senior Center, additional funds come from the city of Salem who donates $2,000 a year, and by selling Avon, consignment items at the center and by renting out the building for banquets and other events. They also hold bake sales and a yearly fish fry in conjunction with the Mammoth Spring Senior Center.
The Mammoth Spring center, although they receive no financial support from the city due to lack of funds, keep their doors open due to citizen support, according to the center director Sue Todd.
In Viola, Daryl Zimmer, a city employee, is currently applying for a grant that would expand the center to double its current size.
"There's people who would come but they feel crowded," Otto Neulreich, the Viola director said.
Besides the rare grants, the Viola center holds two to three picnics a year completely funded by Viola and its residents according to Neulreich.
Other forms of funding for the three centers come from places like The Lady's Club, which is the group responsible for opening the first senior center in 1968, and contribute regularly. In 2007, through the help of Curren Everett, an Arkansas state representative, the centers received $10,029.42 in extra funds.
Altogether, the centers spent a total of $298,462 while they received only $271,540 in revenue and profit. Godwin said that the extra $26,948 came from last minute donations and Medicaid reimbursement for the center's meal delivery and homecare services.
The directors, private citizens, and local organizations are constantly working to keep these centers financially stable to ensure that the services they offer are available to local seniors.
Seniors who visit the centers weekly, and even daily, said they have become accustomed to the nutritious meals, exercise classes three times a week, and socialization opportunities offered by the center.
One Salem resident, Hazel Fulfer, 64, said she comes to the center every day that she can.
"It's like missing a day of church -- when you do, you're lost," Fulfer said.
Other seniors explained how the centers add a sense of enjoyment and purpose to their otherwise uneventful lives. Delphi Smith, 86, said that because she has no family in the local area, the center is her main source of human interaction and nutritious food.
"I come all the time, otherwise you're stuck at home. Here, you can get a good meal when normally you wouldn't make it for yourself. I?also feel that if I stayed at home too long I?would start just staring at the wall," Smith said.
Some seniors volunteer their time serving food and drinks and delivering meals to senior's homes. Others are employed by the centers through a non-profit organization called Experienced Workers that provides much needed employment opportunities to local seniors who would otherwise live in poverty.
The Mammoth Spring center was the first to obtain a kitchen and now serves about 45 meals a day. The Salem center cooks about 40 meals a day and sends a small portion of those meals to the Viola center.
Seniors who would like to utilize the home delivery or home care services of the centers must call the Fulton County Council on Aging and qualify. Any aging member of the community is welcome to eat at the centers and join the yearly trips to Branson and Springfield, and daily trips to the grocery store, doctor's office and pharmacy.
Although the Fulton County senior centers currently remain open to those who need them, Godwin said that, "As prices go up, funding goes down," and she never knows what year will be their last.