Community mourns closure of senior center

A sign hung in the window of the Southwest Senior Center on June 30, the day it closed after 41 years of serving seniors.

Molly Arreguin came to the Southwest Senior Center at 36th & Bryant for 12 years, exercising on Tuesdays and Thursdays and eating lunch with friends.

“This is like my second home,” she said.

Arreguin and scores of seniors mourned the center’s closure on June 30 after 41 years. They gathered for a short ceremony and chance to say goodbye to the center’s six staff members, who were laid off.

“I’m just sad,” longtime social worker Linda Walker said as the seniors dined on one last lunch.

“I’m sad for me, but I’m more sad for all of them. I’m just sad to see it go away.”

Founded through a community-planning process, the center offered seniors a place to socialize, exercise, gather for lunch and enjoy everything from art classes to brain games. It served 1,000 older adults in 2016, according to Mary Ann Schoenberger, area manager for senior services, and operated a licensed adult-day program for those who needed more supervision.

The nonprofit Volunteers of America — Minnesota and Wisconsin had run the center since 1999, relying on Greater Twin Cities United Way for a large portion of its operating expenses. It announced its decision to close the center in May, after United Way said it would reduce the center’s funding by 50 percent.

United Way President and CEO Sarah Caruso told the Southwest Journal the cut was part of decision to focus more on families and children.
“This was a devastating decision,” said Alicia Holum, VOA’s division director of senior programs and services.

The closure followed the shuttering of the Skyway Senior Center in Downtown this past March, also because of funding issues. A third senior center, City Passport in downtown St. Paul, closed this past November.

VOA does operate another senior center in Minneapolis, the Park Elder Center in Elliot Park, which focuses on serving the African-American and Hmong communities. But Walker lamented that there isn’t anything else quite like the Southwest Senior Center.

“It’s fed people body and soul,” she said. “There’s not another senior center that I can refer them to.”

Center-goers appeared to be sad about the impending closure. Sandy Brazil found the center after her retirement seven years ago and participated in activities such as art, making friends and enjoying her interactions with the staff.

“It was my whole lifeline,” she said of the center. “It’s a loss for the seniors, and it’s a loss for the community, especially around here.”

Brazil said she plans on having the center’s craft group meet at her house but said she’s going to miss the sense of community. “Everything was under one roof,” she said. “We’ll bounce back, but it’s going to take time.”

Her daughter, Brenda Brazil, said the closure of senior centers has to stop.

“Enough is enough,” she said. “We need to come together as a community and take care of our elderly.”

The center’s building was scheduled to go on the market July 1, Holum said. VOA worked to ensure participants in the adult-day program had continued care if they wanted it, she said. Some moved to a nursing home.

Some of the center’s exercise classes will move to MLK Jr. and Lyndale Farmstead parks.

VOA — Minnesota and Wisconsin provided care for more than 7,000 older adults in its most recent fiscal year, a spokesman wrote in an email. Its senior nutrition served about 3,800 older adults in 25 locations in fiscal year 2016, including three close to the Southwest Senior Center.