The quest for a senior center in Nevada County
March 11, 2018
"I can't drive through town without thinking of the possibilities," said Sandy "Jake" Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit Gold Country Community Services since 2011.
For the past seven years, Jacobson has evaluated every recently-vacated building in western Nevada County. She's looking for a senior center site to replace the four disparate locations at which the nonprofit currently provides services.
First location: 1,250 meals are prepared each week at the Nevada City Senior Apartments in the Brunswick Basin. The meals are either served on-site during a "Senior Café" or delivered to homebound seniors via Meals on Wheels.
Second location: classes, events, and activities are held at Condon Park's LOVE Building, although it's too small to be a full-service community center.
Third location: a firewood storage yard on LaBarr Meadows Road.
"We've been looking for a permanent location while we've moved 200 cords of firewood three times in the past four years," Jacobson said. "And you wonder why my back hurts?"
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Fourth location: Gold Country Community Services staff offices at the Glenbrook Station Office complex.
Gold Country Community Services has been without a centralized location for nine years. The precursor to the nonprofit, the Senior Citizens Foundation of Western Nevada County incorporated in 1976, built a senior center at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in 1982. The lease agreement with the fairgrounds expired in 2007 and in 2009 GCCS vacated the hall that had offered ample space for activities, classes, and senior services for nearly three decades.
Nevada County is one of few California counties with a large 65-plus senior population and no senior center. Ranked just behind Amador County — which has a senior center — Nevada County boasts the second-largest senior population in the state. At the other end of the spectrum, Kings County has the smallest percentage of seniors 65 years and older, yet it has two senior centers and a YMCA that offers senior activities.
Generating enthusiasm to tackle senior issues is a challenge across the nation. Approximately two percent of American institutional philanthropy goes to aging programs — a percentage that has not changed substantially in the past twenty years, even while the number of older Americans is set to double in the next 20 years.
"Aging is not sexy," said Jacobson. "Seniors aren't as cute as puppies and kittens, but they are just as lovable."
Jacobson retires April 30, and she'd like to leave Gold Country Community Services with a designated location from which to deliver all senior services. She said she believes expanding facilities at Condon Park holds the most promise.
"We'd like Grass Valley to allow expanded use so we can have a place like we had for 27 years at the fairgrounds, which was a fully-functioning senior center," said Jacobson. "Now our goal is a multi-generational center to offer interaction between age groups. Kids can show seniors how to use an iPad, and seniors can explain to kids what a carburetor is."
She said adding outbuildings and expanding the LOVE Building at Condon Park would allow the nonprofit to offer all its services at one integrated site.
"It could be like a campus," said Jacobson. "We need the community to help us make a community center happen. We need to get more people with a passion for senior services to volunteer and perhaps serve on our board."
In 2012, Gold Country Community Services submitted to the City of Gras Valley a plan to expand the LOVE Building by constructing a 1,000-1,200 square foot commercial kitchen, 600-720 square foot patio suitable for outdoor dining, and adding 1,200-1,600 square feet of additional activity/meeting space.
"That plan was later reduced to an operating plan to allow us to operate the LOVE Building while planning and improvements continued," said Jacobson.
"In order for the city to move forward, we need at least a slightly in-depth conceptual plan of what they're going to do," said Grass Valley Mayor Howard Levine. "Not a full-scale drawing that's ready to build, but a strategic plan of what specific projects they'd like to do there."
Levine said he's concerned about limiting public access to the LOVE Building, which was built by the Grass Valley Host Lions Club and dedicated to the city in 1982.
"For example, the kitchen is there for the general public to use and if it becomes dedicated to something like senior lunches, I think it would require the city council to re-designate how that facility is used," said Levine. "I think there's a public discussion that has to happen. The programs GCCS does are fabulous but not if they take a building pretty much out of the public use, such as people renting it for things like weddings."
Gold Country Community Services Treasurer David Caddy said the organization has presented options to city planning staff, most recently at a meeting last month.
"We presented an interim plan that includes moving a portable office to Condon Park," said Caddy. "Our lease with the Nevada City Senior Apartments expires in June, and we'll have to get an extension of that agreement. But we'd like to be well on our way to moving everything over to an expanded LOVE Building. Moving our Meals on Wheels program there might involve a modular food storage building while waiting for the expansion project to be completed."
"What the city needs is a formal request detailing the services Gold Country Community Services wants to provide, and details about the planned expansion," said city community development director Tom Last. "It can be a letter to the city manager asking the city council to consider the proposal."
Jacobson and Caddy said they hope the city might accept an update of the Condon Park plan submitted in 2012.
Gold Country Community Services operates on an annual budget of $550,000, generating 60 percent through donations and fees, $270,000 in state and federal grants via the Agency on Aging Area 4, and no funding from local governments. The nonprofit has raised $210,000 in "bricks and mortar" donations committed to a community center.
"I totally support the concept of creating a larger senior center at the LOVE Building in Condon Park," said Grass Valley Vice Mayor Lisa Swarthout. "A collaboration with Gold Country Community Services seems like a natural partnership as they already have an agreement with the City of Grass Valley to run the LOVE Building."
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a business news feature, contact her at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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