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Palm Coast Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2015 2 years ago

Flagler County needs a senior center — yesterday

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Our senior population is growing faster than the average.

By Denise Calderwood
Guest Writer

September was Celebrate Senior Center Month. Unfortunately, we can’t celebrate because we don’t have one!

Instead, we have a meal site in Flagler Beach that serves 50 seniors who get a frozen meal, and we have a 20-slot Adult Day Care program that has a waiting list! Our senior population is growing faster than the average. According to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, Flagler has 32,367 (33.1%) residents who are 60 and older, with 2.6% over the age of 85; 5,442 live alone. We have the highest concentration of seniors 90 and above in Northeast Florida and we are a “Community for a Lifetime.”

In January 2006, Mayor Jim Canfield signed resolution 2006-04 forming a Communities for a Lifetime Council that conducted a needs assessment, and four months later it was disbanded because of the projected costs of implementation.

In a November 2011 Flagler Palm Coast News-Tribune article, Mary DiStefano, a two-term Palm Coast Council member, said, “I regret not being able to have a place built just for seniors. I feel that I’ve tried my best, I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to get it done because there isn’t enough room for both seniors and children at the community center.”

James Firman, CEO of the National Council on Aging, said in the St. Augustine Record: “Today’s senior centers are evolving to reflect a new view of aging that empowers the people they serve. They’re connecting older adults with meaningful opportunities including participation in Tai Chi, art, music and computer courses to explore creativity and to remain viable and connected.”

Why a senior center?

A senior center provides comprehensive support, including services for socialization, information, referral, education, entertainment, and health promotion. A senior center strives to provide positive experiences to relieve loneliness and make the retirement years full by forming partnerships with local organizations. A major emphasis is to integrate seniors into the community because we all know that seniors matter. However, they need to vie for space at the Palm Coast Community Center, a 7,000-square-foot building that has only three rooms, and, during the summer, this space has to be shared with youth.

Seniors are the backbone of Palm Coast, and for those who remember the ITT ads, Palm Coast was marketed as a retirement community. How ironic it is that the planned retirement community doesn’t have a dedicated senior center, but the city still offers a public/private tennis club and a golf course that loses money and each has to be subsidized at a cost of $150,000 after years of operation.

Palm Coast is a good city, but it could be made a great community if the city leaders do the right thing by seniors.

Palm Coast Yacht Club ...

There are currently two facilities available for sale that could be fantastic “homes” for seniors.

The Palm Coast Yacht Club is one. It’s next to Long Creek Preserve, which, by the year 2018, is scheduled to have an outdoor pavilion. A win-win is to buy the club because it would expand the park by four acres and it has a 7,000-square-foot building that has a commercial kitchen and air conditioning.

The organization has been in existence since 1978 and the majority of its members are seniors: The first commodore, Tony Rende, celebrated his 90th birthday. The builder of the facility, Michael Mullins, celebrated his 91st birthday, and he feels strongly that “it would be a fantastic building because it is a beautiful location that has a strong foundation.”

The Yacht Club is similar in size to the River House Senior Center in St. Augustine, and it serves 125 families from Palm Coast. How ironic? The River House serves two functions: By day it serves seniors and is an accredited senior center, and by night it transforms itself into an elegant evening venue, bringing in revenue through special events, like weddings and anniversary celebrations.

Mayor Netts please don’t leave office with the same regrets as your fellow council members. It's not too late to make the right call, and, as a commissioner on the Florida Inland Navigation District, you know that there is grant money available.

... or Corporate Drive?

The second property is 18,000 square feet. It has a community dining area with a Florida room, classrooms, office space and open areas. The building is wired for technology and has an emergency generator, so it could serve many functions. The building is located at 2 Corporate Drive on Palm Coast Parkway West, and it is on four acres, across from the one-acre Heroes Park, and, interestingly enough, the facility is owned by ITT.

This facility has plenty of parking and space to house several organizations, and several groups have expressed interest in collaborating on sharing and it could become, by default, an extension of the Flagler County Library’s community room.

Dogs are treated better

In a 2012 letter to the editor in the Palm Coast Observer, Leonard Lynn stated that “senior centers are needed on both sides of I-95.” It’s true: The city will have its new home, and we have excess bike paths paid for with Community Development Block Grant money, so why can’t there be a dedicated senior center?

We have two Walgreens stores, two Publixes and CVSes on either side of I-95, and all the citizens have is a small community center that was built by ITT and given to the citizens, who have to pay additional fees to use it.

Meanwhile, Holland Park cost $3.7 million to renovate. Apparently, dogs are treated better than people.

Meanwhile, Holland Park cost $3.7 million to renovate. Apparently, dogs are treated better than people.

Seniors want a place of their own that doesn’t require a tennis racquet or golf clubs but maybe a paintbrush or musical instruments. Now is the time for politicians to listen because seniors are tired of being treated as second-class citizens.

Denise Calderwood is a senior citizens advocate in Palm Coast.

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