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Darrell Berkheimer: Finally – one building for local seniors

Darrell Berkheimer
Columnist

Finally, after more than 10 years without one, it appears western Nevada County will again have a senior citizens center. And, if all goes well, it will be operating by the end of this year.

The plans for that new center operation appear quite promising. The former Summer Thyme’s Bakery & Deli, at 231 Colfax Ave., provides 4,700 square feet in an ideal central Grass Valley location.

Obviously, Gold Country Senior Services now is looking forward to consolidating its services in one location after so many years of being forced to operate out of several separate locations.

I learned some of the details about current operations and plans for the future during a chat with Janeth Marroletti, the organization’s executive director. (Some of those details are cited below.)

Shortly after I came to Grass Valley five years ago, I recall how I was flabbergasted — stunned — when I learned that this area did not have an operating seniors center building.

I came here after nine years in Montana and eight months in Oregon, where communities in both those states had an array of nice senior citizen centers. Even the little town of Stayton, 15 miles southeast of Salem — with only 8,000 population — had a neat seniors center where I attended a line-dancing class.

But here, I was informed that Gold Country Community Services has been hampered by having to operate out of four locations — one for preparing meals, another where classes are offered, an outdoor location where free firewood is provided to seniors, plus an office for its staff.

It boggles my mind how the movers and shakers in this area allowed important community services to be degraded to such a poor situation — especially when nearly one out of four residents in this county is a senior citizen.

I also learned the sad story of how Gold Country Community Services lost the seniors center operations at the Nevada County Fairgrounds – more than 10 years ago.

That fairgrounds building was a joint venture of the fairgrounds and the Senior Citizens Foundation of Western Nevada County, which received a $250,000 grant toward construction of the building. The Fair Board provided the land, an additional $100,000 toward construction, and agreed to a 20-year, no-rent lease for the seniors’ organization.

The building was completed in 1982, and the 20-year lease was extended for 5 years to 2007. Then, unfortunately, in 2007, the Fair Board lost substantial financial support from the state and set the seniors center rental at $3,000 per month. A year later, the rent was reduced to $1,800 because of the building being shared with other services.

It was still more than what the seniors’ operation could afford — prompting the separation of its services to other locations.

That situation is now ancient history. But it’s pertinent to note how Sandy “Jake” Jacobson, as the former executive director, struggled for more than seven years to locate a suitable place where the organization’s services could be consolidated — only to face one disappointment after another. And it took another two years for Marroletti to complete that task.

Marroletti told me the agency assists more than 1,000 seniors yearly, with many in need of food. She said meals are provided every day for between 160 to 225 seniors — the majority of whom receive at least one meal. She noted the plan is to provide two meals daily for all — both breakfast and a hearty lunch.

The homebound seniors who receive the Meals on Wheels service often save a part of their lunch to eat in the evening. And she noted that breakfast may be even more important because seniors usually take medications in the morning when many medications should not be taken on an empty stomach.

Some seniors share meals with their pets, too — which prompted the addition of a pets’ food program for several dozen seniors with pets.

Marroletti said the single most important goal is to keep seniors healthy and in their own homes.

The former Summer Thyme’s building is in escrow, and Gold Country Services is awaiting a determination on the amount of the loan it will receive from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Marroletti explained it is hoped the loan amount will be large enough so that some of the money can be used toward the purchase of needed equipment.

She said the current kitchen equipment is insufficient, because more refrigeration and stove capacity is needed.

Step one is to get the kitchen fully operational, Marroletti said. Then step two will be the dining room, with the potential for social gatherings. She said a senior center advisory committee will study and report on ideas and alternatives.

She also reported the organization is quite concerned and expects to become more involved in the growing elder abuse situations.

When asked about the sources of the organization’s budget, Marroletti said 60% is provided by federal and state funds while the other 40% comes from contributions.

Over the years, Gold Country Services has received occasional financial support from the county and the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City, but the agency does not receive any continuing, annual funds. It appears to me, however, that the county and both cities benefit from the agency’s services, and should be committed to at least a minimum annual support.

Information on the organization’s activities and efforts will be posted on its Gold Country Services website, which notes the need for members, volunteers and contributions.

I told Marroletti I thought contributions should be rather substantial from the many “well-off” seniors who retired to this area. After all, it’s possible many of us could be in dire need of the organization’s services sometime in the future.

And it appears there is no better time than right now to support the establishment of a seniors’ center building that has been missing from this area for so long. Then local services can be expanded for the many seniors who could reap the benefits.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has seven books available through Amazon. His sixth, Essays from The Golden Throne, includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.


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