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Timothy Myers: What’s going on at the SCV senior center?

Posted: August 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

The Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center sits in the heart of Newhall near the Veterans Historical Plaza and Old Town Newhall.

I first discovered the Senior Center in 1998 when I reported there the evening of July 3 to discuss the logistics of Fourth of July parade announcing and pick up a hard copy of the parade narrative script.

For the next several years I would report to the Senior Center to “check in” and pick up a quick snack of packaged pastries and orange juice before walking back to my announcing station.

Technology since defeated the need for this annual rite. The parade organizers distribute the scripts electronically and announcers print them out and walk directly to their announcing stations, shown previously on a transmitted Google map.

But in all those years since 1998, while the community changed greatly, the Senior Center remained changeless, even down to the plastic furniture in the common room.

In the early days of Santa Clarita cityhood, the Senior Center provided a nexus of political networking activity, with all paths to elected office seeming to include a stint or continued service on the Senior Center’s board, which expanded to an ungodly size to accommodate all the politically ambitious.

Myriad see-and-be-seen fundraisers were held on behalf of the Senior Center, and it seemed a bulwark in an ever-changing world.

In the almost 16 years since I began writing a regular weekly column for The Signal, I would first write about the Senior Center in 2005. I recall that several reform-minded and serious individuals, including Duane Harte, current local parks commissioner, and Maria Gutzeit, current Newhall County Water District board member, attempted to carve out a leaner executive committee of the unwieldy and massive board in order to attempt to address some rather dire financial occurrences at the center, initially with the formation of a fundraising charitable foundation.

The financial crisis came from unpaid utility bills that amounted to $15,000 to $20,000 per month. Several months earlier, the county withdrew its practice of paying the utility bills of the center. It appeared from published reports that management of the center allowed the bills to pile up for several months before springing on them the dire circumstances.

I wrote a column that I believed mildly criticized the management of the center for some negligence in not bringing this to the attention of the board sooner so that more choices for remediation existed.

After writing this column, something strange occurred. I received at my residence a four-page typed anonymous letter stating that I just scratched the surface of rottenness and should continue to dig, while making various allegations that one cannot print due to their anonymous nature.

A dear senior lady also called my home telephone to discuss the situation, leaving a rambling voice mail that attempted to use a code name but then revealed her actual name, which anyway showed up on the call identifier.

Beginning in 2010 with the departure of longtime director Brad Berens, a parade of directors came and went, with little reported until the recent revelation that the center turned away seniors from the (sort of) free lunch that the center provides on a daily basis.

From the  recent excellent article by Perry Smith, the management of the center seems confused, like in 2005. Apparently, the county that disburses federal funds for the lunch program would “make up” budget shortfalls incurred by various centers in the county but no longer could do that, resulting in the reduction.

The community also learned that to save money, the center decided to restrict lunch to those above 60, which means they served people below 60. (At my own recently achieved age of 52, I find it quite bizarre that someone near my age would eat lunch at a Senior Center.)

We also learned that the about one-third of the seniors paid the $3.50 “donation” to defray the cost of the $6 lunch.

Which leaves one to wonder: What is going on at the Senior Center? It seems more confused than in 2005.

Timothy Myers is a Valencia resident.

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