For many seniors, the Oakhurst Sierra Senior Center is almost a second home a place to escape the heat or cold, enjoy a warm, nutritionally balanced meal, and socialize while playing a rousing game of bingo.
However, those involved in the center are beginning to have concern's about its future. Sierra Senior Society (SSC) president Katie Davis says paying the bills has become a struggle. Madera County used to pay the center's utility bills, but, due to budget cuts, stopped doing so Oct. 1, 2011. All bills are now paid by the Sierra Senior Society (SSC) a non-profit 501C-3 organization. However, the SSC's only income is through fundraisers and donations. With bills averaging almost $2,500 a month, paying those bills is not always an easy task.
"It is a struggle, because no one's supporting us in paying those bills," Davis said. "If we keep trending the way we are now, without donations or support from the community, county or City of Madera, financially we would not be able to keep the doors open."
Although funds are needed for multiple reasons, the most important is utilities such as propane, electric, water and sewer. The parking lot and kitchen also need repairs and upgrades.
"The center has reached the point that major repairs and improvements are needed to continue to operate for the safety of the many seniors who come to the center Monday through Friday to eat and enjoy meeting friends," said Flora Franck, SSC past president.
The center is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily and warm meals are available at 11:30 a.m. through the Senior Nutrition Program for $1.75.
According to 90-year-old Mary Cornwall, programs like this are essential to seniors.
"I can't cook anymore and was frying an egg in a skillet and got busy and almost fell in the skillet. It hurt," Cornwall said. "You can't do things without help at our age and that's what the Senior Center is for to feed us and entertain us and take care of us."
The Senior Center is also used in a variety of other ways, such as a cooling center. When temperatures each an excess of 100 degrees, the center becomes a county designated cooling center. However, this also causes the center's PG&E bills to considerably rise. The Senior Center also hosts bingo from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays and at noon the first two Saturdays of the month.
"The aging population is growing more and more every day," Davis said. "How would you love to let your parents go where you know they're going to be safe, have a good social network, and have good camaraderie. These seniors look like they're going out for a night on the town when they are coming to play bingo. The need is huge just to keep them active so they don't just sit in their chair at home and die. It gives them a sense of independence that they're still functional."
The Senior Center is also home to the Caregiver Respite Group a group that provides a safe place for those suffering from dementia. Caregivers can leave their loved ones at the Senior Center for a few hours every Tuesday in order to run errands, go to the doctor, or just have a few hours of alone time.
"It's a fabulous program," Davis said. "They do charge $15 a day but that also covers their lunch. I'd love to have that three days a week, but we can't afford that."
Sierra Telephone is also planning to begin offering quarterly computer classes for seniors. Good Ol' Daze, a gift shop in Bass Lake, has donated four refurbished computers to the center. Davis said this will allow seniors to be connected with their families through technology, and they can also learn how to look up their medications online.
"Unless there's an organization that will contribute to our facility, we can't go on doing what we're doing," Cornwall said. "I don't know what I'd do without it. I lost my husband in January and they've been my family ever since."
A spaghetti dinner will be held 4 p.m., Friday, Aug. 30 at the Sierra Senior Center, 49111 Cinder Lane (behind the Oakhurst Community Center). Dinner includes spaghetti with meatballs, salad, garlic bread, beverages, and cake and coffee for dessert. Dinner costs $7 for members and $10 for non-members. People as young as 50 can become members.
If anyone is interested in donating to the Senior Center, contact Senior Society President Katie Davis at email@example.com.
The Senior Center is also available for rent. The main hall costs $30 an hour and the meeting rooms cost $20 an hour.