After months of turmoil at the Medford Senior Center, the 585 members of this local nonprofit hope they have turned a tight financial corner and survived a staff shakeup.
Over the summer, the office manager and executive director resigned as the board of directors became alarmed at its precarious budget situation and membership that has dropped by about half from 10 years ago.
"It's in a much worse financial shape than we thought," said Andrea Jablonski, a board vice president who has been filling in as executive director because there's not enough money to hire someone full-time. "We've talked about closing one day a week."
The senior center, at 510 E. Main St., runs on a $250,000 annual budget, an amount that covers the overhead on the building, dozens of activities, as well as providing 50 to 90 meals a day.
"We live on a shoestring," Jablonski said.
She said that finances have improved slightly over the past couple months, so closing one day a week is no longer being considered for the moment.
The center, which has operated for more than 50 years, offers lunch to seniors and members for $5 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. On Monday, about 50 seniors showed up for lunch.
Jablonski said the center has applied for grants and is looking at partnering with the Medford Parks and Recreation Department. In many other communities, the senior center is managed by the parks department.
"The board feels that a partnership with the city of Medford would be important," she said.
The board of directors has stepped in to offer a more hands-on role in running the organization, as well as having a better relationship with members.
"All of us are looking to the future — the past, we're sorry about," said Art Lumley, president of the board. He said he hopes to continue to build up membership numbers.
Lumley and other board members said they don't see any indication of financial malfeasance at the senior center, though they acknowledge that many of the seniors involved were in the dark about the shaky financial picture until recently.
The board became aware that it needed to do more to bolster its donations and memberships back in August.
"We found we're not in a financially sound state," member Linda Zigich said.
She said the senior center needs to do a better job of letting the community know that it offers a variety of services to seniors.
"There's a whole section of our seniors who don't even know we exist," she said.
Membership has declined, in part, because seniors haven't seen an increase in social security payments in recent years. Some of the people who go to the senior center survive on social security payments of $600 to $800 a month, many members said. Bingo proceeds have also declined.
Robin McFarland, board director, said each board member has taken on the responsibility for a different task at the center.
"The change created awareness and resulted in much better relations at the center," she said.
Councilor Dick Gordon said he's heard of some of the issues with the senior center.
"They seem to have internal problems, and until they resolve them, they won't get help from anybody," he said.
Gordon said the city in the past has helped secure grants for the senior center to fix the roof and other improvements.
Rich Rosenthal, interim Medford parks director, said his department would be willing to discuss opportunities for a partnership with the city.
"Really, the ball is in their court," he said. "From the outside looking in, there is no question the Medford Senior Center has reached a crossroads."
Rosenthal said he's had informal talks with senior center board members, but no formal requests have been put forward.
He said there could be some economies of scale that could come into play if parks and recreation managed the senior center.
Rosenthal said many senior centers, including one in Ashland, are managed by a city parks and recreation department. He said the Medford Senior Center provides a valuable meals program and has state-sanctioned bingo, which is a revenue producer.
"The senior center operation is very important for the city regardless of who's managing the operation," Rosenthal said.
For more information about the center, call 541-772-2273.