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City leaders looking for input on facility for senior citizens

WORTHINGTON -- Where would the city house a senior center? Should it even be called a "senior" center? What programs and services would be involved? And who's going to fund all of this anyway?

Members of the Worthington City Council hope to begin answering those questions at a public forum set for mid-September.

At a special city council meeting Wednesday, council members and others in attendance discussed the importance of asking senior citizens (and not-yet-senior citizens) about what they would like to see in a long- sought-after senior center.

"You're looking at a long range plan; it's not just what today's 90-year-olds want," said Joanne Bartosh, the coordinator for RSVP of Nobles County. "That's why we need a multi-generational dialogue. We need many voices."

"Then at least you can say seniors had the opportunity to comment on what they wanted, what they need, what they don't have and then you can have people to go out and do it" added Robin Weis of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging.

Another point of discussion was where to locate a possible center.

"We tried and failed and tried and failed on some possible locations," Alderman Lyle Ten Haken said. "Then it became apparent to us that what we are trying to do is find a location for a group with card tables and find a location for a group with pool tables and a location for a group that likes to knit and what we came to is (asking), 'What's a senior program for the city of Worthington that's more all-encompasing?'"

And should an all-encompassing senior center be called a "senior" center? Some argued the word has negative connotations.

"Is it a senior center or is it a community center?" resident Jan Rickers asked. "I just think the senior citizen population has changed through the years. I like the idea myself of a community center where there are senior activities and events going on, but not strictly a senior center"

Also discussed was the possibility of assigning a separate person or committee to the task of developing a senior center. There is a need, attendees said, to integrate current senior options like golf courses and the YMCA.

"There's lots of things going on, there's just not a coordinated effort," Weis said.

Another major decision involves whether the center in question would offer a community dinning area. Some argued that current dining programs in the area are underattended.

"Maybe they're physically unable to cook, maybe they can't cook, maybe they don't want to cook," Bartosh said. "The idea of congregate meals is to bring people together for socialization and provide a nutritious meal. You have to look beyond what you're seeing in your community right now."

There's also the issue of funding. Two possible sources are the half-cent local option sales tax that will be voted on in November and local health care foundations. The council hopes more ideas may come from the community. Ultimately, it is seeking a solution that is both affordable for the city and palatable for seniors.

"What makes a senior, when the leaves turn, pack up and go to Arizona?" said Ten Haken. "I can't make the sun shine more, but I'd like to replicate some of those things right here in Worthington. What else can we do right here that would make a senior community more of a senior community?"