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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New management brings welcome changes to Senior Centers

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Janice Crider and Allison Price, pictured below, are the new managers for the Fulton County senior citizen programs, and have given the Salem Senior Center a new look and made some other changes as they try to attract more participants. The Senior Life Program, run by the White River Area Agency on Aging, took over local programs on Aug. 1. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
"I like the later lunch time, and there's a new spirit here. The men have even let me in their domino room, and taught me some domino games I didn't know," Barbara Chelstrum said laughing, as she recently ate lunch at the Salem Senior Center.

There was friction over the summer as the White River Area Agency on Aging (WRAAA), which is based in Batesville, served notice it was replacing the Fulton County Council on Aging, the non-profit organization which ran Fulton County programs for senior citizens for more than 30-years.

Some senior citizens, who use the county's three senior centers or get home delivered meals, worried lunch prices would go up or centers would close altogether but, after two months, most feel changes which have come about have been for the good.

"We've had good crowds here at Salem," Janice Crider, the Supervisor of the Fulton County Senior Life Program, operated by WRAAA, told The News. "I want to emphasize that none of the centers are closing. They are all my babies. There's a need for all of them. It's a matter of making them what people want, so they will continue to come and grow."

Three major changes have been made over the weeks since Crider, who is a resident of Oxford, has been in charge. Lunch is now served at noon instead of 11 a.m., and seniors now line up and walk past the kitchen steam table to get their meal.

"People told us they thought 11 a.m. was too early for lunch, and they said, if they go through the line, they can get exactly what they want on their trays," Crider said. Before WRAAA took over, center employees delivered food trays to people seated at tables.

The most striking change is an interior paint job. Some walls have been painted a bold orange, and others a yellow gold, giving the large lunch room an inviting feel. "The first time I was in here, I thought the white walls made this room feel cold. It needed warmth (through color)," Crider said.

Crider, along with Activities Director Allison Price, relatives and other volunteers have done the painting, using paint and supplies funded by WRAAA.

Crider said Price, who lives in Cherokee Village, is young and energetic, and has done a good job of talking to people to see what kind of activities they would like the center to offer.

Before the meal is served, Crider tells seniors to look at a calendar posted near the center's entrance because it lists vacation and getaway trips that are available to them, at a range of prices.

Crider worked for seven years at the Brockwell Senior Citizens Center in Izard County. It offers bus trips -- Crider recently went along to assist participants who joined a bus trip to Cape Cod -- and Crider hopes some Fulton County residents will be interested in future trips.

"We have the Baxter County Mammography Unit coming to the center on Sept. 6 and 7," Crider reminded seniors, adding, "We are going to start monthly trips to Walmart for those who are interested."

After a prayer, seniors lined up, paid their $2 to Price and went through the food line.

As people ate, Price talked to some people about a new activity she wants to try. "We have several members here who are musicians, and play or sing," Price said. "We want to have a day they perform here. A little concert while people eat."

Dahl Lawyer, a well know musician who played with bands in the area for years, was eating lunch with his wife. "I'd like to do it," Lawyer said. "I play bass or guitar, Pat Doughty, over there, can sing and there are others who can join in. I don't get to play much anymore, so I 'd enjoy it.

One of the goals of the Senior Life program is to get seniors to arrive earlier, eat and stay on for activities.

Crider mentioned the center is beginning Bingo on Thursday mornings at 10 a.m. She plans to put in an exercise room, and wants to add a pool table, if she can figure out where in the building to put it. Another idea is establishing a thrift store in a small room at the front of the building, which is now used for storage.

"I like the people (running the center)," Merda Kinder said, as she finished lunch. "The problem with getting more people to come here is, they've got to make it interesting. Bingo is a good idea. People like that."

As people got their lunch, one diner said he was on his lunch hour. He is the type of visitor the center would like to see more of.

"Senior centers have a stigma. Many people think they are for old, poor people, while they are actually open to anyone 60 and older," Crider said. "If more people in their 60's would come in, they would find we have a fun crowd. They could come in for lunch. Where else can you get a good, nutritious meal for $2?"

Under WRAAA management, the kitchen at Mammoth Spring has been closed. Meals for Mammoth Spring and Viola are now cooked at the Salem center kitchen and delivered to the other sites.

According to Crider, more work needs to be done to increase the number of visitors to the Mammoth Spring Center. She is still trying to figure out why it does not attract more people for lunch.

Crider said the Viola Center "takes care of itself," thanks to a number of dedicated volunteers who help run it. While it has seen an increase in diners, she is really excited at a big increase in home delivered meals. "When we came in, Viola only had three or four home delivered meals, and now we have about 20 clients," Crider said.

WRAAA was critical of The Fulton County Council on Aging for not doing enough to raise money, serve more meals and have a more active transportation program for seniors. Those who ran the program said declining federal and state funding limited how many meals they could serve at the center, or deliver to the home bound.

WRAAA can run the local programs on an interim basis for only two years. It needs to find another organization to take over Fulton County senior programs for the long term.

Crider calls working with seniors her "passion," and expressed confidence that Fulton County senior programs will only get stronger.

"Change is hard," Crider said. "This is still a work in progress. We are no where near where we need to be."

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