Seniors enjoy a hot meal at the Black Diamond Community Center every Tuesday and Thursday at noon. Photo by Ray Still.

Local community centers face United Way budget cuts

  • Fri Nov 18th, 2016 9:59am
  • News

The Greater Maple Valley Community Center has recently lost a significant amount of funding it was receiving from United Way.

Previously the center received $60,000 a year, which was split between the senior programs and teen programs. In July, it lost the $30,000 for the senior programs, Mark Pursley said, executive director of the Greater Maple Valley Community Center.

The community center has been waiting months to hear back from United Way to see how much it will be cutting next year. Each month United Way representatives state they will let the community center know, but they keep pushing it back to the following month, Pursley said.

This has taken a major toll on the seniors in the area since the funding was cut. The most impacted program was the senior nutrition program. Seniors were able to get food three days a week, and most of the time, there was enough leftover food that they could take some home.

“We were able to feed seniors a significant amount,” Pursley said. “We liked knowing we had leftovers for them to take home to sometimes hold them over until they could get food from us again.”

But now, seniors might have to find other ways of getting food. The ironic thing Pursley said, is that United Way is focusing more on homelessness. If these seniors have to spend money on food, they won’t have money for rent, therefore making them homeless.

Right now, the community center is looking at various grant funding plans, but they are getting more and more difficult to find, Pursley said.

Many people are worried about the younger generation, but there should be just as much concern with the older generation, Pursley said.

“Our seniors are just as vulnerable as kids and the homeless,” Pursley said. “They don’t have the safety net they used to.”

Most seniors don’t have family or someone to care after them in the area, so they are on their own. Pursley blames it on our mobile generation. Families are more spread apart, so where families used to live a lot closer to each other, they all now live in different parts of the country, Pursley said.

Pursley recently heard a phrase he had not heard before, that really made him think. He heard the phrase “elderly orphans.” Which refers to the elderly who do not have immediate family readily available to look after them.

“We would do anything for children who are orphans, so why not for the elderly who are orphans?” Pursley said.

Senior programs at the community center were just as important to them as teen programs or any other programs for the younger kids in the community.

Pursley can say they won’t be eliminating any programs just yet, they are filling gaps and moving some money around. Only time will tell if the center will have to eliminate any programs if they don’t receive the funding they need

Black Diamond

Cheryl Hanson, the executive director of the Black Diamond Community Center, had some bad news for the City Council.

“I’m losing $40,000 starting in January,” she announced Nov. 3.

It’s nothing the community center did to lose the money, Hanson continued. It’s that United Way of King County has decided to focus it’s donation efforts elsewhere.

“What they want to fund is great stuff,” she said. “Homeless. Mental health. Drug and alcohol. All the things that most of the people who contribute to Microsoft see when they go to work. But that cut me out.”

According to Hanson, the community center met with United Way in late 2015 to discuss funding cuts, but found out in July that funding for the senior center, a sizeable $20,000, would be cut completely.

Approximately 700 seniors are served at the senior center.

In anticipation of the cuts, the center let go two part-time staff members, and the senior lunch program is now only Tuesdays and Thursdays, and no longer held on Friday.

To make up for the reduced lunches, the center partnered with the Enumclaw and Maple Valley senior centers for Monday, Wednesday and Friday lunches, and host Enumclaw and Maple Valley seniors on the off days.

Senior field trips were also cut, and adult daycare is no longer held, but “the cut that hurt us the most was the transportation of seniors to and from the center and to their doctor appointments,” Hanson said.

“So we did take cuts, but we still help with all the essential items the seniors need like food, clothing, gas vouchers, car and home repair, rental assistance and fun filled Tuesdays and Thursday lunches,” she continued.

Hanson said she hopes that additional grants and private donations will help the community center continue these essential services, adding that the Salvation Army has already stepped up to specifically help with gas vouchers and emergency service.

The other $20,000 cut from the center was for the before and after school care program (BASK) for kindergartners through sixth grade students.

The BASK program typically serves between 20 to 22 Enumclaw School District students every year.

However, the BASK program had to shrink already this year because the program was held was at the Black Diamond Elementary School.

The program is currently held in a smaller space at J.J. Smith Elementary, and class sizes had to be cut from 22 to 14 kids per class due to space and funding issues.

Hanson said because class sizes already had to be cut, she doesn’t anticipate the program being affected by the cuts for the remainder of year, but the program will most likely be affected by the cuts in the near future once the program can move back into Black Diamond Elementary.

The community center will still receive $10,000 from United Way for its food bank and emergency items for the general population.

Where did the money go?

When United Way’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan was published in June 2015, it came a few changes, especially concerning seniors.

“Sometimes these five-year plans can signal ‘business as usual’ and other times they say ‘change is needed,’” a news update from the charity reads. “This plan was more about the latter.”

According to the update and Assistant Director of Public Relations Sabrina Register, the charity had conversations with agencies about the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan back in 2015 in order to help people like Hanson prepare for the shift in funding.

“We are moving away from a wide and shallow range of services to focus our investments in areas we can make the most difference,” Register said in a Nov. 8 interview. “We’ve moved away from general senior services.”

United Way’s updated focuses for 2015-2020, Register said, are on homeless (reduce the number of unsheltered homeless by 50 percent), education and graduation (engage 50 percent of youth without a high school diploma and prepare 80 percent of kids for kindergarten) and financial stability programs (help bring 50,000 people above the poverty line).

Register said some senior services are still funded, but mainly services concerning housing and financial stability.

As for the BASK program, Register said its funds were cut because the community center did not apply to United Way’s latest Request for Proposal (RFP), since it did not fit into the overall goal of dropout prevention.

“So in this instance, we didn’t decrease their funding but rather, they decided not to apply when we changed the focus from general youth development to dropout prevention to align with our investment work of students graduate,” Register said.

Insurance relief

Hanson appealed to the Black Diamond City Council Nov. 3 to ask for the city’s financial help.

This would not be the first time the council made room for the center in it’s yearly budget – two years ago, the council approved funding the center’s $10,000 insurance bill.

“That’s the only way we actually give back to our community center, has been the insurance program in the past,” Mayor Carol Benson said at the meeting.

Despite all the political disagreements this year, the council quickly rallied to offer support.

“I think it’s the minimum we can do to help out,” Councilwoman Janie Edelman said.

“We can squeeze some more juice out of that budget,” agreed Councilman Brian Weber, who’s son recently graduated from the center’s BASK program.

A budget workshop was held on Nov. 10 to discuss adding this item to the city’s budget.