, Salem, MA

February 13, 2013

Letter: Let's not botch this again

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

What follows is an open letter to the Salem City Council:

Since reading the recent article in The Salem News on the new senior center, I feel compelled to speak. The moment to finally end a journey of botched attempts and finally do something about our senior center is at hand.

I pondered this over this past weekend. I decided to try to enlighten the council again as to the history of the journey taken up to today, which has brought us to nowhere.

In the early ’90s, while getting my master’s degree in gerontology at UMass Lowell, we had to submit a research project evaluating what was offered to our elders within our community. After interviewing both the director of the senior center and the executive director of North Shore Elder Services, I was struck by my findings. At that time, I wrote a proposal to look further into the needs for our seniors. I gave this proposal to Dan Geary, Mayor Neil Harrington’s assistant at that time. I believe around $10,000 was allocated to do this study of elder services within Salem. Paul Lanzikos, the current executive director at North Shore Elder Services, did the study. One of his strongest findings was about the disrepair and inadequacy of the current senior center.

After graduating from UMass, I worked in a primary care medical practice as a gerontological nurse practitioner. Many of my patients were from Salem, and most were seniors. When encouraged to go to the Council on Aging, they often said it was rundown and not a place they wanted to go. Many actually went over to Peabody or Marblehead, as they found it “nicer.” I was at that time a member of the Board of Trustees at the COA. It saddened me that our senior center was not looked at as a viable option for seniors. The staff worked hard to do their best with less. Yet many seniors continued to stay away or go to another senior center.

Mayor Harrington allocated funds to renovate the current center, but it was never finished and he was voted out of office, lack of follow-through on the center being the probable cause. Seniors do vote, as you know. At that time, I was not a senior. ... I am now.

The next mayor, Stan Usovicz, put up new money to again search out a new center site. I was appointed to a steering committee to look into sites for this proposed new senior center. Paul Lanzikos was on this committee, along with a number of others. Some funds were brought in, I believe $250,000, and once again nothing came of this. Many meetings, much time and a great deal of manpower were expended. The funds were not really accounted for in my opinion. The most we got was a sign in the back of the site, which was approved. The sign read “Future Home of the New Salem Senior Center” on Szetela Lane. It never happened, and another mayor was voted out. Seniors do vote.

Move on to St. Joseph’s site. ... Shot down, another waste of time and effort.

Another committee was organized and came up with another site, Boston Street. This one got further along than all the rest. Funds were allocated for a designer to help design the space in the new center. Joan Lovely, Bill Woolley, Doug Bollen, COA board members and those of us sitting on the design committee traveled in the COA van from site to site to evaluate and get ideas to make the new center a welcoming, efficient and forward-looking location for not only our elders but for all Salem residents. The money allocated by the council hired a decorator to help with the design plan of an already approved site, which is the current site coming before you for a vote. We worked on selecting colors, furniture, wall decor, flooring, lighting, etc. We talked about getting local artists to display their pictures. We talked of having historical memorabilia displays. We discussed a state-of-the-art computer center, exercise center, etc. We attended planning committee meetings, met with the builders, met with abutters to discuss and design the parking and landscape. We had public forums open to all to discuss the plans and enlist ideas. Once again, time, expertise and manpower were expended by employees, elected officials, volunteers and involved citizens. We were ready, set and determined to raise capital to help bring in money so this could at last become a senior/community life center for our entire community. It would stand on the corner as a welcome into Salem from Peabody and serve as a beautiful entrance into our city in an area that has long been abandoned.

So gentlemen, I have written a lengthy historical perspective so that you can all look back and get a good picture. Many of you were not around for all the above proposals; some of you were rather young; some may not have even been living within our city; some of you, like me, may have now become seniors; and some of you who have joined us within the past few years may not have any insight as to how long this has been on the table. We are a city that has continued to abandon the needs of our seniors, as well as our community. I hope that before you vote, you think about two things. First, do the math and add it up as to the waste of all that already spent money if you do not act. We have over and over again put our money up to no avail. Second, reflect on the manpower; the number of volunteers, citizens and staff hours; the continued deterioration of the current senior center; the majority votes and good decisions abandoned for the self-serving “naysayers”; and a total disregard for the best good for all of Salem’s citizens, especially our seniors.

Quite honestly, as a longtime citizen in this city, I am embarrassed by this story. Some say we need a stand-alone center. Well, nothing is standing. The definition of gerontology is the study of aging. Each day, each and every one of us ages. The future of longevity is preventive approaches to aging. A senior center/community life center can broaden the scope of aging from the beginning to the end of life. We have not only a need but a moral obligation to see this already determined center built.

So I ask each and every one of you while you sit and ponder all I have spelled out above to look within yourself and “STAND AND DELIVER.” This may not be exactly what everyone wants but is clearly the best possible last stand.

I thank each and every one of you for your time and efforts. I think it is time to put this citywide embarrassment aside and vote all together to do something for yourselves, your neighbors, your friends, your children, your parents and all of our citizens. All of you will reap the profits of this decision once this site is open and running. I believe that you need to represent all of Salem’s current, past (as many have passed away during these 20 years or more) and future citizens.

Let’s not botch this again!

Kay Walsh

Vice Chairman, Board of Trustees

North Shore Elder Services