Funding cut threatens Southeast Seattle Senior Center

Six senior citizens sat around a table criss-crossed with dominoes, chatting animatedly about quilting, casinos, the important role that the Southeast Seattle Senior Center (SSSC) plays in their lives and how they'd feel if recent funding cuts should affect their favorite meeting place.

"I've been known to sit at home in my pajamas and cry all day since my husband died. But now I come here," said Betty Winslow, a jovial woman who has considered the center a second home for two years.

"My daughter pushed me to join-at first I didn't want to be around all these old people!" Winslow teased. "But I've made some nice friends. We bring our lunches and eat, share and joke."

"I'd go crazy if I didn't come here. It's home and friends," said Florence Townsend, who has used the center for 22 years.

These regular visitors were a small sampling of the more than 1,400 senior citizens that use the center each year. It offers area seniors a vast array of low- or no-cost services, including weight management groups, mammogram screenings, financial counseling and computer classes.

Center Director Cherie Sigrist warned that cuts in funding from Senior Services of Seattle/King County might compromise services if the community does not step in to pick up the slack.

"We're offering something that seniors need or want, whether it's health services, exercise, or socialization," Sigrist said. "Funding for programs for kids is readily found, but senior services often get overlooked."

Refocused funding

The SSSC has typically received about one-third of its annual budget from Senior Services, a non-profit agency that is partially funded by United Way. This year, United Way cut its funding to Senior Services by $71,000 in order to hone in on other community issues.

"We're refocusing our priorities toward ending homelessness and school readiness," United Way's Senior Vice President of Community Services David Okimoto explained.

The funding reduction from United Way is one of the reasons Senior Services cut its 2006 allocation for the SSSC by about one-half, or $47,000, said Susan Compton, community relations director for Senior Services.

"We hope the changes will help the center increase participation. There's a lot of creative potential," Compton said.

The center has asked its members, who pay an annual fee of $15 each year, to pledge an additional $10 per month to bridge the funding gap and keep all current services intact.

Members have stepped up their support and raised about a third of the needed funds. The remainder, however, will need to come from the community because the majority of center members live on a small, fixed income and cannot afford to donate more, Sigrist said.

"We hope the community will see us as a valuable resource and keep us here," Sigrist said.

A community stalwart

The SSSC has served the South End since 1961. It has been in its current location at the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Holly Street for 20 years.

In 2005, the SSSC served 1,450 seniors. Forty-three percent of users were white, 29 percent African-American, and 21 percent Asian/Pacific Islander. It is one of the most diverse senior centers in Seattle, Sigrist said.

About three-quarters of SSSC users fall into the low to very low-income brackets and rely on the center for vital services, which are offered to both members and non-members. The center tries to provide services to anyone who needs them, regardless of their ability to pay, Sigrist said.

To maintain programs, the SSSC is asking the community for more financial support. The center, which is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, also welcomes donated time.

"It's been a great community, and we think it will rally," Sigrist said.

The center's funding comes from a variety of sources in addition to membership dues, program fees and large allocations. It holds a number of fundraising events, including an Oktoberfest celebration, a murder mystery dinner, and a walk-a-thon at Seward Park.

Another important source of income is the center's thrift store, which is located next door to the SSSC at 4645 S. Holly St. The shop, which keeps its prices low - $.20 for a paperback novel and $2 for a coat - fills the dual role of pulling in about $1,000 monthly while offering visiting seniors access to affordable merchandise.

Anyone is invited to shop at-and donate to-the store, which is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information about the Southeast Seattle Senior Center or to find out how to help, contact Cherie Sigrist at 722-0317.

Denise Miller may be contacted via[[In-content Ad]]