By Sandra Miller
Locals are pouring into the Senior Center and public library, dropping off checks for $100, thanks to pledges made at Monday night’s meeting by Precinct 3 Councilor Joseph Ferrino Jr. and Precinct 6 Councilor Linda J. Calla.
Council on Aging Director Nancy Williams also received checks from at-large councilors Phillip R. Boncore and Joseph V. Ferrino Jr., the finance commission, and even from the Citizens for Fair and Balanced Government.
The Rotary Club has pledged a donation, and the Chamber of Commerce is meeting next week to discuss what it can do to help the Senior Center and other town departments.
“This morning, we’re up to $2500,” said Williams. “It’s amazing. I’m totally overwhelmed. This one elderly woman said, ‘I wish I could give you more. All I could afford is $3.’ That meant as much to me as the sizable donations. Every donation counts. I’m inspired and encouraged by what’s happening here.”
That’s a week after she was told the center would be closed, and only days after given a four-week reprieve.
“It’s like a yo-yo ride,” she said. “I think they are finding it a little more difficult to be able to say ‘This is it. There’s no more Senior Center, there’s no more library.’ They know the work we do here, and the library and people are affected by what we do.
“With everybody pitching in, we can get through this. If I have to close down for three months, I’m going to lose people, my exercise instructors, maybe a couple of programs, like the monthly vision impaired program. We’re dealing with very serious issues here. Our wellness programs keep people active and independent and healthy. They don’t want to be taking care of by their adult children.”
Williams is still trying to work out where money will come from for funding salaries and is meeting with her board tomorrow to crunch some figures and research grants, but between what’s raised by the Friends of the Council on Aging and random donations, she thinks she’ll be able to keep the center open Tuesdays through Thursdays until the town can come up with a better plan, including an override vote.
“We’ll have money to stay open. We can take someone to radiation treatments. We can have our senior lunches,” said Williams. “We might even have to go down to two days a week, although I’m not sure if we can do that. It’s all going to point down to money. It’s the truth.”
She plans to do some outreach to the senior citizens’ families, and she even went around the center asking for money. “It’s not easy to do,” she said. I know economic times are tough right now.” She’s also discussing holding a dinner cabaret at the end of the month, with some of her friends in entertainment helping her to raise funds.
“We’re trying everything we can do. All I can say is we’re not going to go down without a fight,” she said. “It’s not just about the job part of it — we’ll be taken care of through unemployment. It’s the people we serve. We deal with elder abuse, rides to medical appointments, housing issues, mental health, health insurance, along with all the programs and activities we do here. I wouldn’t want the people to not have access to this place because then seniors won’t have a lifeline.”
Williams supports a Proposition 2 1/2 override, saying it’s time the town figured out that it can’t afford basic services based on current income.
“I fear the state will take over; then, we’ll have to do what they tell us to do. For those who say, ‘Oh, Chelsea went into receivership,’ what happens is that the unions don’t have any bargaining powers, real estate will plummet, and the state can set the tax rate for a heck of a lot more than what we’d ask for in an override. I would rather have the control that goes with the override, in an amount more affordable to people. I’d rather pay $37 more a month than Pay as you Throw. I think residents are starting to get it. They are realizing now we’re in dire straits. It’s time to stop blaming people. Let’s work together to maintain the goodness of our community for the children and for the older people.”