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Johnson County Senior Center discusses changes after survey results

BY GRETA MEYLE | OCTOBER 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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Seniors and younger members alike swayed and stepped gracefully to the exhilarating sound of the tango at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Ruthanne Hyduke, a 68-year-old tango class participant, said the limited number of available classes in the evenings has caused her to pursue new interests in classes she would’ve never thought of taking, including tango.

“I’m still working, so I can only come to the later [classes],” Hyduke said. “I understand why they don’t want to have them in the evening, but with all the available classes, I could spend my whole day down here, and that day will eventually come.”

Over the past summer, a survey was sent out to supporters and members of the Senior Center to evaluate the center’s services and to gauge what they would like to see in the future. While the survey garnered several positives, the main areas where improvements were recommended included diversity, operational strengths and weaknesses, and expanded hours and more programs of interest.

Senior Center program specialist Michelle Buhman said the center has received a lot of requests to open different areas of the building but may not be able to satisfy those requests.

“If we have more programs over the weekend, we need funding for those programs, we need people to create and instruct those programs, and we need to ensure safety,” Buhman said. “That’s a big amount of work for a small staff.”

The center currently employs one part-time and six full-time employees; it had 649 volunteers for fiscal 2013.

Elsie Gauley Vega would like to see extended hours for the center’s computer room.

“During the week, [the hours are] probably fine, it’s just on the weekends that I would like to spend longer,” the 85-year-old said. “But there’s a full-time staff here, and they’re all overworked as it is — bless their hearts, and there are few of them, so I understand why.”

Senior Center coordinator Linda Kopping said she doesn’t believe the staff can add any additional workload without giving up on some of the current programming.

“… So far, [we have] been pretty creative with extending our hours; with only 6.5 workers, we have a lot of dedicated volunteers, but we’ve just reached the capacity of what we can offer,” she said. “We’ve only had 6.5 [employees] for many years, and we’re to the point where we can’t extend our hours without additional help or cutting certain programming.”

Kopping said her main initiative for change with the Senior Center would be improving diversity, which includes a larger minority population, low-income community members, and including a wider age spectrum.

According to the survey, only 8 percent of the respondents were under the age of 59 — which the respondents said would include “working seniors.” These seniors are currently unable to take advantage center’s daytime classes.

 “If you’re working and getting off at 5 p.m. then you have to be out of the exercise room at 7 p.m.,” Buhman said. “We’ve had lots of requests to open different kinds of areas of the building [at night], but for safety reasons and small staff, we can only accommodate so many needs.”

Kopping said the members of various Senior Center commissions would determine the plan of action, and funding for these changes will be determined by the Iowa City City Council’s response to budget requests, she said.

“I have for years wanted to extend hours — that’s always been important to me,” Kopping said. “I think the survey shows that if you offer something interesting, people will come [regardless]. But I found the diversity issue to be far more compelling than the need to extend hours.”


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