April 16, 2014

Seniors seek new home

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Group hopes to revive community center talks

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

When the Williston Seniors hosts its monthly meeting and dinner at Whitney Hill Homestead, every seat is full.

“We’re growing and we have no place to expand,” said Patti Delphia, president of the group. “We want a place of our own. We want a new home.”

The group hopes to revive talks to establish a senior center or community center in Williston—something it says the town is sorely lacking.

Delphia said the Williston Seniors would like to be able to meet at least once a week, but there is nowhere for them to go that meets their needs.

Existing venues like the Federated Church and Williston Woods are too busy for frequent gatherings, while others, like the Old Brick Church, aren’t handicap accessible. Still others, like the community room in the police station, don’t have a kitchen. The seniors typically meet during the day, when the school gymnasium and auditorium are in use.

Williston Seniors member Vickie Walker said that while the group typically gets together over a meal, Williston’s older residents—like her 92-year-old mother, whom she brings to Williston Seniors meetings—have a larger need.

“They’re not just looking for food, they’re looking for fellowship,” she said. “That’s the greatest need. They just don’t have a place to gather.”

Delphia said she hopes to make Williston Seniors a more vibrant and varied group.

“I know there’s a lot of (seniors) out there,” she said. “I get calls asking ‘what do you have to offer?’ and I’m really sad to say ‘not much,’ because we’re limited.”

Williston Seniors currently has approximately 40 members. If seniors had a place to gather and more space, Delphia thinks many more would get involved.

“A lot of older people still have that desire to be involved and socialize. They want to see other people,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of people out there that would come if we had a place that was suitable and we had a lot to offer. I think there’s a lot of seniors that don’t participate because we don’t have very much to offer.”

Delphia said she envisions a space where seniors can host social gatherings—like a bingo night—or just drop in.

The center could also be used by the town’s teens, giving them a safe, substance-free place to gather, Walker and Delphia said. The pair is reaching out to other community groups that could benefit from a community center, such as the Williston-Richmond Rotary and Boy and Girl Scout troops. They have organized a public meeting July 8 at 7 p.m. at the Williston Federated Church for anyone interested in a community center.

Years ago, the Selectboard created a task force to assess the need for a multi-generational community center in Williston.

“The task force concluded that there is not a pressing need at the present time, but within 5-10 years the town will need to respond—particularly to the needs of senior citizens,” a final report, delivered in November 2007 reads. “Because the planning, fundraising, and construction process may take 3-5 years or more, the task force recommends that the process begin now.”

The task force concluded that the most appropriate location for a community center would be within the historic Williston village and that funding should not come solely from taxes—though it noted that the community’s willingness to approve funding might change in the coming years. It recognized that there would also be ongoing costs beyond the initial capital needed, which it said should be assumed or subsidized by the town, rather than passed on to participants.

“I would say definitely there’s a need, the question is can the community afford it?” Town Planner Rick McGuire told the Observer on Monday.

The town has recently invested in major parts of its infrastructure, he said, citing the police station, fire station and public works facility.

“That creates a fairly large debt burden on the community that makes it more difficult to do additional projects besides the one we’ve already got planned,” he said.

Once the town completes the process of borrowing money for the new public works facility, which the voters approved in March, the town’s total debt will stand at nearly $11 million, said Finance Director Susan Lamb.

Walker and Delphia said they understand money is tight, and are willing to help fundraise.

“If we can build a place to hold our trucks we can certainly build a place for our seniors,” Walker said.

“It’s a disgrace not to have a senior citizen or a youth center,” Delphia said.

The Williston Seniors currently have $10,000 saved from when the group received funding from the town’s budget, and are willing to put it toward outfitting a center.

“Lots of towns build community centers and financially support their community centers,” Walker said. “It’s time to get that off the ground in Williston.”

To get involved, contact Delphia at 879-2511.

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