Southwest senior center to close in June

Volunteers of America says decision was forced by 50-percent cut in United Way funding

About 24 seniors participated in the Southwest Center's adult day program. File photo

EAST HARRIET — Volunteers of America–Minnesota and Wisconsin plans to close its Southwest Minneapolis senior center in June after a 50-percent reduction in funding from Greater Twin Cities United Way.

The closing of Southwest Center would directly impact about 24 seniors who participate in Southwest DayElders, the center’s adult day program. The center also employs five full-time staff members.

Hundreds of seniors interacted with Southwest Center each year. It offers exercise classes and wellness programs, social work services, a computer lab, a donation-based food program and a monthly food shelf for those aged 55 or older.

The center, located at 3612 Bryant Ave. S. in the East Harriet neighborhood, will close no later than June 30, according to a statement from the organization released Thursday.

In that statement, Paula Hart, president and CEO of Volunteers of America–Minnesota and Wisconsin, said, “We came to this conclusion very reluctantly and after careful consideration, since we received the disappointing news from United Way in late April. The Center has been a ‘home away from home’ for many older adults for 41 years.”

The center celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016. Volunteers of America took over operations in 1999.

This spring, facing a $6 million shortfall in its Community Impact Program, United Way made cuts in its funding for about 130 local agencies. Annual funding for Volunteers of America was cut in half, to $150,000 from about $300,000.

Although Volunteers of America–Minnesota and Wisconsin reported annual revenues of more than $45 million in its 2016 fiscal year, it leaned on United Way funding for a “large portion” of Southwest Center’s operating expenses.

“The loss of this support created an unsustainable long-term funding gap,” the non-profit organization reported.

Greater Twin Cities United Way President and CEO Sarah Caruso described the funding cuts announced in April as “heartbreaking” decisions. While the organization exceeded its 2016 fundraising goal, more donors are asking for their money to go to specific programs, leaving a shortfall in the flexible funding pool that funds multi-year grants to agencies like Volunteers of America, Caruso explained.

United Way cut grants to social services programs 9 percent. It also responded to the shortfall with an 11-percent budget cut, achieved primarily by reducing staff and freezing executive salaries, and by drawing down $1 million from its reserves.

Caruso said cuts in its funding for agencies like Volunteers of America ranged from 5 percent to 100 percent depending, in part, on how closely aligned their programs were with United Way’s core mission.

“We are really focusing on families and children as our key strategic priorities going forward,” she said.

Volunteers of America owns the Southwest Center building, but a spokesman couldn’t say yet what the organization planned to do with the property after the senior center closes.