Due to declining federal funding and fewer lunch patrons, the facility is need of new funding sources

by: JASON CHANEY - People enjoy lunch at Prineville Senior Center on Wednesday afternoon. The facility serves lunch for any visitors five days a week.

In the 1970s, the local Soroptimists club decided to open and operate a senior center in Prineville.

Unlike many such facilities, they opted to run it without any help from government agencies. At the time, people had their doubts.

“Everyone in town said, ‘You’ll never make it, you’ll never make it,’” longtime soroptimist Dale Comini recalls. “So, we were going to show them.”

In the years that followed, the Soroptimists indeed showed the doubters that the center could make it. Relying on donations and modest federal funding, and earning a steady income from lunch patrons, home meal deliveries, and proceeds from the Soroptimist-run Neat Repeat thrift store, the Prineville Senior Center has endured for around 40 years.

However, due to a perfect storm of recent circumstances, the senior center is facing tough financial times that could threaten to close their doors if something doesn’t change. From July to December 2013, the Soroptimist International of Prineville Charitable Trust ended up more than $210,000 short of its $447,000 budget.

“Being independently owned creates lots of dilemmas,” said Soroptimist president Gaylynn Mayers. “It has come to light more recently.”

Mayers explained that, a couple years ago, the club was still in sound financial shape. Some local senior citizens had passed away who left them generous endowments, and the Neat Repeat was thriving.

That has since changed as the club has spent the endowment money with no new endowments anticipated. Meanwhile, the Neat Repeat has gained more and more local competition.

“There has been 10 new thrift stores recently, which takes away from the sales,” Mayers said.

Adding to the struggles, the federal sequester has resulted in cuts to the money they receive to provide meals at the senior center and for home delivery. The services have been buoyed by the generosity of senior center regulars who willingly pay for the in-house meals despite the fact that federal law does not require it.

“Since we are part of the Older Americans Act, that is where our money through Central Oregon Council on Aging comes from,” explained Melody Gibson, senior center coordinator. “Because of that, our meals have to be donation only for people 60 and older.”

Though the lunches have generated consistent revenue, the income has dwindled in recent times as the number of people who come to lunch at the senior center has diminished.

“We lost a lot of our regulars,” Gibson said. “We used to have an average of 80 to 100 folks daily, and now we are at 40 to 60.”

Given their financial dilemma, the soroptimists have begun brainstorming ways to increase their income and presence in the community.

“Some of the ideas have been to rent out the building,” Mayers said. “We did it in the past, and my understanding is it didn’t go over well. There was a problem with people damaging property. But we are open to that.”

In addition, Mayers and Gibson are soon planning to approach the Crook County Court and Prineville City Council for financial support, and Comini will join Mayers to request support from local civic and fraternal organizations such as the Kiwanis Club of Prineville and the Prineville Eagles.

“One of the other things we are talking about doing is adding nighttime and weekend fee classes,” Mayers said.

The senior center currently offers a variety of free classes, including beginning and intermediate line dancing and exercise, while offering a place to play pinochle, bridge.

Ultimately, the soroptimists want the community to know that, despite its given name, people of any age can come to the senior center for lunch, and they are welcome to participate in the activities provided. Mayers said they have even considered, very reluctantly, to change the name of the facility to the community and senior center, or community and adult center.

“A lot of people don’t know who we are or what we do,” Gibson said.

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