At a crossroads: Senior Center mounts fund-raising campaign to stay open

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February 23, 2004 // UPDATED 9:16 am - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Residents fight to plug a shortfall that could close activities for those 55 and older

The Skyway Senior Center, a nonprofit catering to Downtown's older residents, has launched an aggressive fund-raising campaign to keep the three-year-old center afloat.

The center, located in a suite in the Retek Building, 950 Nicollet Mall, has enough funds to stay open until June, said Melinda Ludwiczak, Skyway Senior Center coordinator. If the fund-raising campaign falls short, the center is in danger of closing.

The Friends of the Skyway Senior Center, however, a nonprofit fund-raising group, has mobilized to come up with the extra cash to keep the place open. The campaign is working on plugging a $50,000 budget shortfall.

Visitors and volunteers insist the center provides a niche Downtown that other organizations can't fill if it closes its doors. Most classes and services are free.

The center provides Downtown's seniors (those 55 and older) with an eclectic mix of offerings, including T'ai Chi classes, chair massages, Internet classes, blood pressure screenings and elder law courses with discussions on estate planning and nursing home costs.

Said Ludwiczak, "We meet a lot of needs. There is no other safe, comfortable place Downtown where older people can gather on a regular basis."

Since the center opened in November 2001, more than 3,500 visits have been logged (some are repeat visitors), Ludwiczak said. Most of the visitors walk or take the bus to the center.

The senior center has become a magnet for older residents from all walks of life, from the homeless to retired corporate executives, she added.

Most people stop in to read newspapers or use the computers. For many, it's become a place to find companionship.

Rosalyn Sanden, 66, a Downtown resident, said she visits the center four times a week to attend classes or check her e-mail.

"There is no other place like it Downtown," she said.

Sanden's friend, Don Leners, a Senior Center volunteer and vice president of the Friends of the Skyway Senior Center, agreed.

Leners, 72, of Northeast Minneapolis, who worked as head clerk at the Creekside Community Center in Bloomington before he retired, said fund-raisers are maintaining a positive outlook.

He said the center has provided him with a place to make new friends. At home, while he's alone, Leners said he's more apt to think about his aches and pains, or the fact that he's getting older.

At the center, he forgets about those worries.

"The biggest thing here is the social scene," he said. "The biggest thing people need is to be with other people. They are helping people be self-sufficient Downtown."

The Skyway Senior Center is the brainchild of the Minneapolis' Senior Citizen Advisory Committee, which reports to the mayor and the City Council.

When it first opened, the center received $50,000 from Target Corp., but the corporation decided to end its donation last year, which put the center on rocky financial footing.

Currently, the center's books show $82,750 in funding from several sources, including the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, Wells Fargo and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. Ryan Cos. pays for the center's rent, with the exception of some operating expenses.

To date, the Friends of the Senior Center campaign has raised $5,500.

The center's total yearly budget is $133,755 with more than half, $68,958, for personnel.

The center has begun some belt-tightening. It has cut back on the newsletter, "Chatter," which will now come out six times a year instead of monthly. Parking reimbursements have been cut back, and Ryan Cos. has reduced the center's monthly operating fee.

While some might say Downtown's seniors can turn to other places, such as the Central Library's interim site at 250 Marquette Ave. S. or Downtown health clubs, frequent visitors want to see the Skyway Senior Center remain open.

The center is located in a spacious suite near the LaSalle Avenue skyway between the Retek Building and the University of St. Thomas and Downtown Auto Park ramp. The 2,400-square-foot space has a bank of computers and a large room for exercise classes.

Senior art is also on display. The featured artist this month is Mary Nagan, who has made several African clay masks.

Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), a member of the Friends of the Skyway Senior Center, said the group remains optimistic in face of the fund-raising challenge.

"Rather than complaining about cuts in government, the outlook is so positive," she said. "This is a group of people that have really said, 'OK, fine. If government can't do it, we can do it because it's so important.'"