Politics & Government

‘If you don’t do that, you will die’; seniors seek more county funding for centers

Senior citizens packed the County Commission chamber and an overflow room for Thursday’s budget hearing, to argue for more money for senior centers.
Senior citizens packed the County Commission chamber and an overflow room for Thursday’s budget hearing, to argue for more money for senior centers. The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County senior citizens were out in force Thursday night to demand more money for senior centers that they say help them stay in their homes and stay alive.

Dozens came to the County Commission podium to tell their stories — three minutes at a time — of how senior centers have benefited them and to ask the commissioners to increase their support.

The occasion was the county government’s annual evening budget hearing. More than 60 seniors packed the commission chamber to standing room only and another 20 filled an overflow room watching on video.

The current county budget plan is to keep senior center funding level flat for 2019, said spokeswoman Kate Flavin.

How much each center gets depends on tiers, based on the number of people served and services provided.

Several centers are hoping to move up in the tier structure this year, which would increase their budgets, Flavin said.

Commissioner Jim Howell, whose south-county district includes a high percentage of low-income seniors, has been pushing for more than a year for more money for the centers.

A parade of seniors came to the podium to testify on how the centers have helped them.

Gary Heath said he didn’t know about senior centers until a couple years ago.

“Now I go every day,” he said. “I’m there all day long. They’re the most wonderful people I’ve ever met in my life. We all love each other.”

Judith Eguino, widowed and an immigrant, said her family is all in South America and Europe and the center helps her overcome the emotional issues of being alone..

“The Linwood Center has become my family,” she said.

Jeri Myers, director of the senior center in Mulvane, said it’s important because the people there take care of each other, like the time that the center’s meals-on-wheels volunteers discovered and got medical attention for a man who had fallen at home and laid on his floor helpless for almost 24 hours.

She said active seniors are the most valuable resource in the community because of their experience and knowledge, as well as time for volunteering.

“More funding (for the center) would be much appreciated and well-used,” she said.

Senior citizen Odean Moore said the center is where she goes to exercise and participates in walking, tai chi and line dancing.

“Then I can go back to my doctor and say ‘Yes, I’m exercising,’” she said.

But more important than the physical exercise is the social interaction, she said.

“I’m a widow of 30 years,” she said. “Going out and being with others, if you don’t do that you will die.”

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas
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