By: Rachelle Millner, West Side Community House & Karnese McKenzie, St. Martin de Porres Center
Dear County Executive:
We are the co-chairs of the Council of Neighborhood Leaders, a collective of local neighborhood centers that collectively assist thousands of families in Cuyahoga County. One of our most delicate populations we serve includes seniors; our elders and often most vocal partners in our neighborhoods.
Before the pandemic, we recognized that the needs of older adults would be seriously impacted by the virus. Not only did we consider how this would affect their health directly, we knew most importantly that many depend on the interaction we offer thru our senior centers that help many avoid isolation. In response, we pivoted our services to deliver meals to all seniors, including those accustomed to coming to our centers. We did drive-by check-ins, and weekly calls, as the reality of a digital divide grew more stark for our seniors. COVID Response emergency funds and some donations from local supporters were extremely helpful with food, gas expenses, and some support around the digital connectivity inclusive of some equipment to help some of our seniors.
Still the pandemic, while not at the same level as it was two years ago, the challenges are nowhere close to being fully addressed. Seniors still need access to services, and support. Even while we welcome seniors to our centers, COVID is not yet fully gone. Managing vaccinations, ongoing boosters, the digital divide, and best mode of operations through all these challenges continue to stretch our resources. Our staff, now affected by similar challenges of their own, are also looking for hybrid opportunities for employment with higher pay that our centers cannot afford unless our funders increase funding and address our structural and operational needs.
Senior centers often depend on 6-8 sources of funding for sustainability.
Most of our centers have been in existence for 80 plus years, nationwide senior centers often depend on 6-8 sources of funding for sustainability. And while often some may not recognize the impact of our services and long-term resilience, Cleveland is an aging city and now more than ever the VALUE of our centers should be at the forefront of attention. We hope you too recognize such value.
Rachelle Millner, West Side Community House & Karnese McKenzie, St. Martin de Porres Center