By Kristine Thomas
Sunday, March 18, 1-3 p.m.
115 Westfield St., Silverton
Members age 60 and older
are invited the annual
The board of directors will be
introduced and the membership
will vote on bylaw amendments.
Entertainment by Old Time Fiddlers
Let’s pretend Donald Duck and Daisy Duck live in Silverton.
Donald, 62, and Daisy, 58, hear the Old Time Fiddlers are performing at the Silverton Senior Center’s yearly meeting on March 18 and are eager to attend.
They arrive at the Silverton Senior Center, where they notice a sign on the door that reads, “Welcome to the Silverton Senior Center. Just a reminder ALL persons must be 60+ as per rules of our grant to participate in any senior activities.”
Can Daisy attend the event?
According to Silverton City Manager Bob Willoughby, the answer is no.
“A spouse under 60 cannot accompany the over 60 spouse to events at the new senior center,” Willoughby said. “The federal rules specify that the senior center must be use exclusively by persons 60 years of age and older.”
To be in compliance with the rule, the Silverton Area Senior Inc., SASI, Board adopted a policy that anyone using the facility must be at least 60.
The City of Silverton received a $1.1 million federal Community Development Block Grant to build the center, Willoughby said, adding that it could not have been built without the CDBG grant.
“This grant is what made the wonderful new facility possible. Like most federal grants, it came with strings,” Willoughby said. “Since we accepted the money to make the project possible, we now have to follow the rules and live with the strings.”
Willoughby said many communities, including Florence where he was the city manager prior to coming to Silverton, have used CDBG grants to build centers and found ways to use their facilities and follow the age rule.
He shared that the senior volunteers and community members had difficulty accepting the 60-plus rule for the senior center in Florence.
“They complained to the city, to the senior center board, to the state and even to Congressmen and Senators,” Willoughby said. “They tried to formally appeal the rule and get the age restriction reduced. After many weeks of frustration and effort, it became clear to everyone that this is a hard and fast rule that is not going to change.”
Willoughby said the rule was eventually accepted and the seniors and the community members have been making their new senior center work even with the age restriction.
“We have to accept the rule as they all have. Not one city anywhere in the country has found a way around this rule. There are no waivers or any loopholes to help us skirt the 60-plus rule,” Willoughby said. “It couldn’t be clearer: anyone using the new facility must be at least 60 years old for the first five years after the project has been closed out by the state of Oregon.”
Willoughby said he hopes the Silverton community will focus on helping SASI board successfully operate and finance the new senior center and not get hung up on the age restriction.
“It isn’t going to change and trying to fight it will only divert time and energy from what should be everyone’s focus: successfully enjoying and operating the new center and raising the funds needed to keep it open and thriving,” Willoughby said. “Remember, without the CDBG grant and this age restriction, we wouldn’t have a new senior center.”
Silverton Senior Center Executive Director Dodie Brockamp greeted a woman who was visiting the center with her daughter.
“Do you have to be 60 to come to the senior center,” the woman asked Brockamp.
“Yes,” Brockamp answered, explaining the rule.
“Well, if that’s the rule I won’t come because I have a friend who is not 60,” the woman replied.
Since the signs went up notifying people they must be 60 years or older, Brockamp has dealt with a rash of questions. And with the unyielding answer comes frustration.
“No one is totally happy with the situation,” Brockamp said. “Whatever happened in the past, is in the past and can’t be changed. Everyone has an opinion on how things should be. My goal is to move forward.”
Fortunately, she said, membership has not decreased, adding there are 466 members as of Feb. 22, including 28 who are under 60.
However, she said, the Ancestry Detectives and the American Sign Language groups now meet elsewhere because some of their participants are younger than 60. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley wanted to hold his town hall meeting at the senior center, but couldn’t because of the age requirement, Brockamp said, so it was moved to Robert Frost Elementary School.
In attempt to keep things clear, Brockamp explains people 60 and older can benefit from the center while those younger than 60 can serve at the center.
“We don’t want to get to the point we have to check people’s ID,” Brockamp said. “We are trying to work within the restrictions.”
Brockamp, who turns 52 in March, said she can be at the center because she is serving the public – just as a person who is younger than 60 can teach a class or volunteer at the front desk. High school students who are volunteering at the center can be there, she said, because they are serving and not benefiting.
“If a caregiver is bring someone to the foot clinic, I am not going to ask them to wait in the car,” she said. “They can sit inside but they can’t watch TV because that would be benefiting.”
There isn’t an age limit for people taking trips organized by the senior center, Brockamp said, because the bus leaves from the parking lot of the Silverton/Mount Angel Physical Therapy office. The week day lunch provided by Meals on Wheels also can be attended by anyone.
Both Willoughby and Brockamp said the policy isn’t something the city or the SASI board want to enforce, but they have to because the federal restrictions on the grant money mandate that the rule be followed for five years. That clock starts running when the state issues the city an “administrative close out” letter. The request for the center’s close out was submitted Feb. 23.
“If the city fails to follow this rule, it could be required to repay the $1.1 million CDBG in full. The ‘60-plus’ rule and the consequences of not enforcing it were made clear to the city before we accepted the grant. It has been the rule for many years,” Willoughby said.
Brockamp, who started as executive director in January, has met with businesses, churches and nonprofit groups to form partnerships. She has plans for the senior center for this year and five years from now, including creating a stable funding base to operate the center, which costs $216 a day to run.
“We can’t change the past,” she said. “My goal to navigate a path that is clear for all to follow.”