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December 29, 2012

On their own: Jackson center ‘functions very well’ as independent facility

VINCO — A decision nearly 15 years ago by former Cambria County commissioners not to bring the Jackson Township Senior Center into the countywide senior system may have been one of the best things to happen. So say Jackson Township officials and senior members.

With the county commissioners’ closing of the nearby Nanty Glo Senior Center at year’s end in response to the potential for a growing senior budget deficit, the Jackson Township center is looking inward to its own situation with an assurance that no state or federal senior money goes into operating the center.

“It functions very well. I’m very proud of that,” said Jackson Township Manager Dave Hirko. “Not too many communities have something like this.”

Pride and hard work have gone a long way as seniors, including the Jackson center’s president, Frank Singel, make the unique situation work. Township leaders said it is especially gratifying to see as state and federal money for the elderly is being stretched in more directions.

For all other centers in Cambria, the county – using state and federal subsidies – pays the rent or supports the center by housing it in a county-owned building.

Each center is expected to help by paying the heat and other utility bills, something most are able to do much of the time, Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said.

For most, fundraisers help meet the local share, which is set at about 20 percent of the cost of operating the center, Lengenfelder said.

“The state encourages that they want these center facilities to help,” he said. “I’m really hoping that these centers look at what they do and how they do it and pick up a little bit more of the responsibility.”

The Area Agency on Aging currently has a $1.1 million reserve, but state and federal funding cuts projected for the next three years could leave the agency with a $900,000 deficit unless steps are taken to reduce costs, Lengenfelder said.

While none of the other eight centers in Cambria County are independent like Jackson, at least one other, the Cresson Senior Center on Front Street, is looking to its community to help pick up some of the costs of operation not generally covered by aging funds.

Cresson Mayor and senior center member Patrick Mul-

hern said his group is looking locally for funds to make sure the doors stay open.

The Sankertown VFW already has given the center $4,000, a part of its profit from small games of chance operations.

Help also is coming from the Ashville area, the Cresson American Legion and Cresson Borough, all because the seniors asked for help, Mulhern said.

“It was a godsend having this money come in,” he said.

Plans are to solicit funds from businesses in the Cresson area that benefit from the senior community, in particular the pharmacies, Mulhern said.

This approach is one the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging and others hope seniors will adapt, said M. Veil Griffith, AAA administrator.

“I think it’s so important right now that these people do take ownership,” Griffith said. “We can’t depend on the taxpayers.”

The concept for the Jackson center started about two decades ago with the township’s purchase of the former Vinco Elementary School.

Using Community Development Block Grant funds, it took several years for the township to renovate the building, replacing electrical, plumbing and heating systems, windows and ceilings and installing an elevator.

It was hoped that when completed, the center would become affiliated with Cambria County’s senior center program, with the county paying the township rent for the space.

That was not to happen. With no county money budgeted for the Jackson site, the supervisors resolved to keep the center open and find other ways to fund its operation, Singel said.

“We just decided to suffer it out ourselves. We just decided to go ahead and open in 1998,” he said.

An annual fee of $10 was levied on each member.

Part of the building was leased to the county to house the local district judge’s office, currently held by Mary Ann Zanghi.

The $2,600 a month paid by the county for the court space is used to offset the utilities and maintenance costs of the senior center.

Meals are provided at the Jackson center three days a week by Nutrition Inc., the Pittsburgh-based company that serves the other centers. The facility is open for any number of activities five days a week, Singel said.

The former gymnasium is now the dining and kitchen area.

Exercise classes are also held there, while a smaller room serves as a recreation area for bingo and television.

Another room houses a library. There is a crafts room and even a big train display, a popular attraction during the holidays, Singel said.

While the township picks up much of the tab for operations, the seniors are aggressive in raising funds to pay for things they want.

An annual festival, blood screenings, calendar sales and a small stipend from the Silver Sneakers program are some of the more significant fundraisers, he said.

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