Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Senior center cuts services

Drop in donations hurts budget

Express Staff Writer

Wood River Valley seniors who depend on the Blaine County Senior Connection for transportation to and from doctors' appointments, grocery stores and even the center itself will have to find alternate transportation one more day a week.

The Senior Connection's transportation services have been cut from five days a week to four, a cut Executive Director Kim Coonis said is a result of dropping donations.

"Times are tough for everybody," she said. "We're just kind of plugging along."

Anywhere from 10 to 20 seniors a day take advantage of the connection's bus service, which will take seniors to and from the Hailey center for meals, as well as taking them to St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center and the St. Luke's Hailey Clinic. Coonis calls it "vital transportation," with other side trips to the post office, grocery stores and banks.

The van service will only run Tuesday through Friday, and the center is also selling its larger bus in an attempt to raise money.

"We need the money," Coonis said. "We charge $9 a trip to St. Luke's, but we can't do that anymore because it costs $6 just to get up there."

Rising gas prices have an impact on costs, but Coonis said that donations are down 65 percent from last year, which is causing most of the need for service cuts. The center's budget, roughly $1.1 million for last year, is made up of 70 percent donations.

"Donations are so far down this year, we've had to cut and cut and cut and cut," Coonis said. "It's just hard, and it's kind of frustrating."

Coonis said that while many donors continued to give money last year, the recession's stubborn refusal to turn has frightened donors and depleted reserves.

"People are scared to donate right now. People who had the money last year and donated from their interest or savings, they are not donating the same way this year," Coonis said.

In addition, competition for grant funding has become increasingly stiff, she said. Any grant funding could take months to be released, time Coonis said the connection just doesn't have.

A deal may be struck between Mountain Rides and the Senior Connection to provide transportation services for seniors, but Coonis said nothing is final. Even if Mountain Rides can provide some assistance, Coonis said it won't be as extensive as those the center used to offer.

"They're not going to take people to go and get a birthday gift for their sister or something," Coonis said.

Seniors who depend on the bus to take them to the center for meals would now be eligible for Meals on Wheels. However, Coonis said this service might be the next to be cut back if donations drop.

"I don't want to do it, I don't plan to do it, but you have to start somewhere," she said.

The organization continues to launch fundraisers throughout the year. The next one is the Fathers' Day Prime Rib Dinner, being held at 5:30 p.m. tonight, June 15, at the center. Reservations are required, and Coonis said the last dinner drew 125 attendees. The connection's largest fundraiser, the annual Roadrunner 5k Run, brought $15,000 to the center last year.

Coonis said she hopes the run will draw more participants—and more donations—for its second year.

Still, she said, the center relies on private donors to keep the doors open.

"One good-hearted soul could do a lot of good [for us,]" she said, adding with a laugh, "So could a lot of good-hearted souls with not-so-deep pockets."

Katherine Wutz:

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