Guest essay: Park Ridge Park District has spoken on Senior Center — It’s our move now
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:39AM
PARK RIDGE — There have been many changes made by the Park District recently which affect the Park Ridge Senior Center (the “Senior Center”) and members of that organization.
As elected representatives, we are writing to explain what has been happening, and to seek members’ input.
As you probably know, for many years, a written agreement with the Park District governed our use of the 100 S. Western building.
In early 2011, the Park District refused to renew the contract. Without a contract, we lost any guarantee that we will have continued and/or preferential use of the building, a building we have spent a lot of money improving over the years.
Also, without a contract, senior programs and activities could be disbursed to other locations within the Park District, regardless of our wishes. Moving activities to other locations would undermine one of the primary reasons that the Senior Center was established in the first place — to create a centralized place for senior activities to be held, a “drop-in” location to serve as the home of the Senior Center organization.
The Park District’s refusal to renew the contract was just the first in a series of actions which dramatically changed the relationship between Senior Center leadership and the Park District.
Perhaps the most important change to date occurred last month, when the Park Board decided that it would no longer consider input from the Senior Senate, which is the elected governing body of the Senior Center.
Park District staff publicly described the Senior Senate as “non-productive” and “adversarial,” and declared the Park District would create its own select committee to give advice on matters affecting seniors. This latest act has the effect of replacing elected Senior Senate with a committee handpicked by the Park District to represent the seniors’ interests.
These actions reflect a fundamental change in the way the Park District is choosing to run things at the building — a building that we have funneled approximately $2 million to over 30 years, and now have no guaranteed right to use.
The Park District has closed the door on the financing arrangement it had with Senior Services, Inc., our financial arm.
Teresa Grodsky is gone. The Senior Senate — your elected representatives — have no input, no influence and no involvement anymore, because the Park District has chosen to replace them.
You have lost your voice in what goes on at the 100 S. Western building. But you haven’t lost your voice with us.
The independent Senior Center that many community leaders envisioned when it was founded over 30 years ago and its right to govern itself is under attack by the Park District. Senior Senate leaders are being vilified and displaced by the Park District.
To regain our independence, many members have suggested that we find a new home. A new home would allow us to continue to be in charge of our own affairs, make our own rules, set our own dues, and plan our own activities. To come together as we see fit.
You can still participate in programs that the Park District would most likely offer, but our Senior Center organization members would have a new home, where card games, clubs, classes and our regular activities would take place. It would be a place governed by the paying members of the Senior Center.
We, the Senate, have appointed a committee to look into our options for a new location, and they have identified some promising possibilities.
We expect the Park District to communicate and present “their side.” They have repeatedly said that they will continue to provide senior programming and that they don’t plan to close the building to senior citizen activities.
But without a contract, they cannot be held accountable for promises not kept. Even if we assume that this Park Board will keep its word, this Park Board can never speak for future park boards. And their behavior towards seniors over the last two years shows a disrespect of our history, our generosity, our views and our concerns that we find unacceptable.
We know that many seniors over the years worked hard to create and improve the Senior Center as we knew it.
When we suggest finding a new place to call home, we do so knowing such a move will not be easy. We are all volunteers who would prefer things proceed without problems and difficulty.
We believe strongly, however, that moving is something that needs to be seriously considered because of what is being lost as Senior Center members under the current Park Board and staff.
Both the Senior Senate and Senior Services stand ready to work toward that goal if that is what is sought.
— Carla Owen is the chairman of Park Ridge Senior Services.