City: No plans for senior centers to merge - Despite rumors to the contrary, Leschi's Central Area Senior Center will remain independent of Rainier Valley's Southeast Seattle Senior Center

A full house turned out to "hear things from the horse's mouth," as CASC interim director Cynthia Andrews put it, as leaders from Senior Services of King County and members of the Central Area Senior Center (CASC) in Leschi came together to discuss the center's future on Oct. 30.

"I am amazed at the amount of people in this room. I expect everyone here for lunch tomorrow. We only have the place this full when it's catfish day," Andrews said with a laugh.

When Denise Klein, Senior Services executive director, began speaking, the meeting quickly took a more serious turn.

"I realize I've made some pretty serious mistakes. I am very sorry for causing so many of you upset or anger or fear. I did not foresee this in setting regional goals for the Southeast [Seattle] and Central Area senior centers," she said.

Dispelling rumors

Due to Klein's recent proposals outlining goals for the county's senior centers, rumors and fears began to circulate. Even the best ideas cannot work without going about them in the right way, she explained.

"I wrote out a vision, but people read into it as a merger. The idea to combine Southeast [Seattle] and Central Area senior centers is not even a good one from any perspective," said Klein, who added that her goal for the meeting was to clarify her ideas and dispel any rumors.

She worked for two hours to do just that.

Klein, along with Senior Services vice president Joanne Donahue, addressed the myths that had been circling among CASC members.

She began by clearing up a major concern: that CASC would close. She instead pointed out that the center was "stronger than it was a year ago."

Donahue later highlighted CASC's recent accomplishments. The center is ending a year with a surplus, healthy financial reserves, committees and regular operating hours once again, she said.

"This is my community; I live in Leschi. I love all the senior centers, but this place is right in my back yard, so I care a lot about it," Donahue said. "I am very proud of this place and the people who stepped up to do the work."

Other rumors included the possibility of the city selling the CASC building and property and the cancellation of exercise classes, both of which were untrue, according to Klein.

The apprehension about merging CASC with the Southeast Seattle Senior Center, located in Rainier Valley, also was discounted.

"We are not interested in those centers merging; it makes no sense to me. The centers are very different, and it would not be a good idea. We want both centers to be strong and independent," Klein said.

Still on shaky ground

Despite Klein's and Donahue's attempts to clear the air, CASC members were still full of questions, ranging from the costs of leasing a copy machine to why CASC board president Thurston Muskelly was not sitting at the front of the room. Many, including Muskelly, were concerned with the center's finances. CASC's annual budget is about $80,000.

"Everyone here is missing the point. This center cannot raise $80,000 a year. You've got to have people with deep pockets; you can't raise that with barbecues and fish sandwiches," Muskelly said.

Klein and Donahue acknowledged Muskelly during the meeting for his fund-raising efforts for the center, which included his gaining financial support from the Seattle City Council.

Yet, CASC members remained uneasy about the center's budget and resources.

Evelina Hatcher, a "lifelong member" of CASC, stressed the importance of acting on people's expressed wants and needs.

"We are nothing without a plan. We should have so many people here for Christmas dinner that the fire department tells us we have too many. The bottom line is, we can all be here together, but if no money comes out of this, we are nowhere. So please think money. Senior Services can't do it all; we have to help ourselves," she said.

Andrews seemed to agree: "When crises happen, we often seem to come together. But I hope to stay together."

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