A campaign to raise $50,000 could decide whether Charlotte loses one of its four senior centers.
The nonprofit Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Centers says that’s how much money it needs to recoup – the bulk of what it lost last year during the federal government’s sequestration budget-cutting strategy.
However, agency officials say, it’s the collective impact of four years of budget cuts that is leading them to consider such a drastic measure as closing one of the organization’s centers.
Executive Director Trena Palmer said the senior centers have absorbed $300,000 in funding reductions since the start of the recession in 2009, which amounts to 19 percent of its annual budget. That includes $79,000 lost last year because of the sequestration.
The agency has adapted with staff cuts and a 60 percent reduction in classes for seniors, but options for further trims are getting tougher to find in the face of more expected federal cuts, Palmer said.
So far, the fundraising campaign has raised $27,000, including a $10,000 grant from the George W. and Ruth R. Baxter Foundation. But donations have stalled since the new year. The deadline for raising the funds is April 1.
“Instead of cutting more programs, we may have to cut a site. That would be a major hardship for the seniors involved, because they can’t drive that far when it comes to going to another center,” Palmer said. “Cutting a site would be a worst-case scenario ... I don’t want to say which one, because that would cause a panic among the seniors.”
The organization has centers on Willard Farrow Drive on the east side of Charlotte, Tyvola Road on the south, Tuckaseegee Road on the west and in Huntersville to the north.
Usage of the centers has increased 330 percent in the past six years, despite recent cuts.
The Senior Centers, founded in 1983, helped 3,478 seniors last year with classes and other programs aimed at extending their life through education, social and health activities. Sixty percent of those who use the centers are age 70 and above, and many live on Social Security, Palmer said.
Charities that help seniors have been among the big losers since the start of the economic downturn.
During the recession, foundations began diverting more grants to critical-needs charities – those offering food, shelter and help with utility bills. Then, during the economic recovery, a new charity approach called for using money on focus areas, such as education and homelessness.
The result, said Palmer, has been an annual struggle to piece together money from various sources, including Mecklenburg County and United Way.
Among the programs that have been cut are initiatives that had seniors checking in regularly with other home-bound seniors to monitor their condition, and a service program that placed 400 seniors as volunteers with other local charities.