Thursday, June 02, 2016

Senior Commission Tackles Goals In Special Meeting

A short-handed Costa Mesa Senior Commission (no replacement has been named for departed Stella Adkins and Sue Healey was absent) met before a very small crowd - 8 people eventually showed up to observe and/or speak -  in a special meeting this morning with a single item on the agenda - the establishment of goals and objectives, something Commissioner John McGlinn has been pushing for since the very first meeting of this group a year ago.
Interim Recreation Manager Justin Martin and Senior Center Program Administrator Yvette Aguilar guided the discussion by providing some history and some statistics, but it was clear early-on that some of the commissioners felt the proposal to craft and adopt the goals and objectives at this meeting was overly-optimistic. 
Each commissioner had been asked to come prepared to offer suggestions for goals and objectives for their peers to consider, and each of them did.  The discussion was more free-form than past meetings - more like a study session - so the conversations many times overlapped, but in a good, constructive way.  Sometimes it was difficult to tell whether a commissioner was describing a goal or just providing background.  In my opinion, this was - by far - the most productive meeting of this group so far.

While each of the commissioners offered good suggestions, the core of the issue this morning revolved around Commissioner Janet Krochman's suggestion that they didn't have enough data to actually accomplish this task - yet.  For example, she suggested that they didn't really know who the Senior Center was supposed to be serving.  She cited the fact that, based on the numbers currently available, they are trying to design programs and services for a very broad age demographic - ages 50 through 100.  The membership at the Senior Center has dropped by 50% since the initial push last year for free membership.  Of those 832 remaining, we don't even know the ages of of 53 (6%) of them.   In fact, the Senior Center is currently providing services and programming for only 2.8% of the Costa Mesa seniors - if you begin to count those ages 50 and older.

McGlinn at one point observed that it was costing somewhere in the area of $900 per member to provide services - a questionable return on the investment.

It was generally agreed that it was important to attract more seniors to the center, but some wondered whether there would ever be programming and scheduled hours to attract the largest segment - the 50-59 age group, most of whom are still working and raising families.  At one point it was suggested that the definition of "senior" may need to be amended to exclude that particular group.  This suggestion was serious, since grant funding depends on providing services to a specific percentage of the group to be served.

McGlinn led off with a series of questions/observations, some of which appeared to morph into "goals".  He suggested, for example, that many times seniors go through a traumatic loss of identity, so some kind of "job training" could be valuable.  He further suggested the following:
1 - Increase the participation of the 55-65 age group.
2 - Expand the hours of operation to accommodate a broader age group.
3 - Explore a different method of access control and use the data collected to further define those being served, and how.
There were other suggestions buried in the discussions.
Commissioner Kirk Bauermeister provided a clear, concise list of goals:
1 - Increase 2-way communication with Seniors
2 - Increase Senior Center membership by 10%
3 - Expand health and wellness programming by 10%
4 - Increase volunteer opportunities by 10%
5 - Each Costa Mesa high school sponsor an event at the Senior Center next year.
Vice Chair Ann Perry opined that "we're here to serve the seniors, but if some don't need us, that's OK."  She observed that those in their 50's don't see themselves as "seniors".  She suggested that membership sign up sheets should be included inside every issue of The Chronicle.  She suggested greater outreach at venues like the Fish Fry, Concerts in the Park and the Car Show.  She thought there could be transportation to City Council meetings and that City Staffers could make presentations to the seniors on operations within City government.  She also suggested high school groups could do dress rehearsals or abbreviated versions of upcoming productions at the Senior Center. She also suggested more weekend and evening programming be created to serve the younger demographic.
Chair Ernie Feeney suggested that it would do little good to attract more seniors to the center if we were unable to provide transportation, so she suggested a goal of adding another bus and driver to facilitate better transport.  She further suggested expanding special programming from Friday nights to other evenings of the week.  She suggested mailing The Chronicle to the mailing list of the city Recreation Guide twice a year, to expand the readership and potential membership.  She also mentioned a "volunteer greeter", but it was unclear if that was to be considered a goal or not.  She also suggested an annual survey of all attendees to the Senior Center, using simple "yes or no" questions.
Krochman wondered if the programming outlined in the Recreation Guide may overlap some of the Senior programming.

During Public Comments two people rose to address this issue.

Long time activist and volunteer Charlene Ashendorf suggested, using her own, personal experience, that we shouldn't leave the 50-59 group behind - that they can be valuable assets to the center and learn from the more senior members.  She opined that we need to remain relevant in this digital age and the Senior Center should be a one-stop destination for many services.  She suggested that we need to "cultivate the Senior Center" and adhere to the core values.  She also indicated that The Friends Of The Center could be a valuable resource.
Former councilman and current candidate Jay Humphrey thanked the commissioners for serving, then observed that the two minutes alloted per person for speaking with such a small group was "preposterous".  He observed that the commission didn't seem to have enough information to make proper decisions yet.  He also suggested folks who declined to return be polled to find out why.  He also suggested a series of "invite a friend" events, where members would be asked to bring a non-member as a method to expand membership.

The information discussed will be compiled by the staff and presented to the commission, along with answers to their many questions, at their July 12 meeting where this process will continue and - with luck - goals and objectives will be established.

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