There was troubling news out of Belmont this week, when word arrived that the Belmont Senior Center would be closing at the end of the month.
Officials at Community Action Program, which has operated the center for at least a couple of decades, made the announcement in a letter sent to Senior Center members, no longer able to afford the $30,000 annual deficit from operating the center at the Belmont Mill.
“You’ve heard of the expression, robbing Peter to pay Paul? That’s what’s been going on for years,” said Suzanne Demers, director of elder services for CAP Belknap-Merrimack Counties.
Demers told a group of seniors gathered on Tuesday to discuss the closing that the Belmont facility has been a drain on other CAP programs and lagging attendance numbers didn’t justify its continued operation.
On special occasions, like when there’s an ice cream social or pizza party, as many as 20 people might show up, but only about a half-dozen have been turning out on other days.
The announcement that the center was closing was sad news, but what was worse was the way it was delivered: in a Jan. 3 letter that members say caught them by surprise.
Demers said she was sorry about the way it was handled. “I apologize to each one of you for not coming to sit down with each one of you to discuss that. I was wrong, and I can own that.”
One bright spot to this matter is how invested members are in their little group — to the degree that they were less than enthused about the prospect of going to another senior center out of town.
And despite feeling like the rug was being pulled out from under them, they were open to the idea of trying to go it alone, and not entirely without CAP’s support. Instead of offering meals three days per week, the agency said it could provide meals up to three times a month, while continuing to run Meals on Wheels and a bus service for seniors.
While senior centers require a certain critical mass of members to make them viable, the kind of passion seen in Belmont this week provides a hint at the vital function such centers play in our region. They not only help ward off isolation among a population prone to it, they provide an opportunity for people to forge connections, have a hot meal and get helpful information on a variety of a range of topics, from health care to tax preparation.
It remains to be seen whether the Belmont group will be successful, but you have to admire their pluck.