Off Target: Senior Center struggles after donation pulled

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March 31, 2003 // UPDATED 9:31 am - April 30, 2007
By: s of Target Corp.'s $50,000 threatens one-year-old Downtown facility
s of Target Corp.'s $50,000 threatens one-year-old Downtown facility

Less than a year after the Skyway Senior Center opened Downtown, its funding is in doubt. Target Foundation, a major contributor to the Senior Center, has pulled a $50,000 plug on its donations, two years short of what some thought was a three-year commitment.

"Not getting the Target allocation this year was a blow," Skyway Senior Center coordinator Melinda Ludwiczak said.

It is a blow that greatly contributes to an $84,000 budget shortfall that the Senior Center, 950 Nicollet Mall, faces beginning in June and through the rest of 2003.

With their center's future in doubt, more than 20 Senior Center patrons -- who go to the Senior Center for socialization and classes -- turned out for a March 24 City Council committee meeting to ask for public funding and to beseech Target Corp. to consider restarting its donation.

The Skyway Senior Center is a place where people 55 and older gather to socialize over coffee and cookies, use free computers, watch a movie, participate in seminars, enroll in classes or take a field trip. The Center has served more than 18,000 people since opening in November 2001.

The Senior Center is a project of the city of Minneapolis' Senior Citizen Advisory Committee to the mayor and city council. The city operates the Senior Center through the Department of Health and Family Support's Senior Ombudsman Office. Ryan Companies donated space for the center (within the Retek Building) and furnishings. The center relies on private support and in-kind city aid.

"Target [originally] asked us to come back for funding for the next several years," Kildow told committee members.

However, since then, the Target Foundation has new staff who have denied the Senior Center more funding.

Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter said, \"We were able to help them with $50,000 initially. We\'ve certainly looked at the re-allocation of our grant-giving funds and we\'re trying to help more people and this was just not a request that we could take on. What we have done is we have said we would help them with building their organization. ... We also said we would help them with volunteer support.\"

At the Council meeting, Senior Center activists asked for help lobbying the company. "We ask that some or all of you make phone calls and write letters to [Target]," Kildow said to the committee.

Kildow was followed by eight Senior Center patrons, who talked about its importance.

"The Center has given me a reason to get out of bed in the morning," Lois Barnhart said. "I don't think there's another place like this in the city."

Another Senior Center patron, Sally Roth, said its health and fitness classes are important for her. She explained that because most of her money goes toward housing, she could never afford to join a gym to meet her fitness needs.

Peggy Ramstad, a senior volunteer, said, "How wonderful to have a place where we feel safe and welcome ... We've become rather dependent on the center. To have to close it would be a devastating blow."

And Doug Davis reminded city officials that seniors are a community asset. "We've contributed a lot to the city. A lot of us are volunteers," he said.

A motion made by Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) to help the Senior Center find financial help passed unanimously.

Zerby later said he hopes the Senior Center will be able to get sustainable funding -- hopefully from a non-government source. "If we can find a way to get the funding from Target or some outside source, I would prefer that," said Zerby. "Every nickel and dime seems hard to scrape loose here [at City Hall]."

Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) said, "We want to continue to be a supporter of the Center."

Johnson Lee added that city staff would work to help the Senior Center with outside fundraising and possibly government funds.

To better fundraise, the Skyway Senior Center Advisory Committee has formed the Friends of the Skyway Senior Center. This sub-committee is in the process of applying for nonprofit status. The group's main goals will be to raise money and the Senior Center's visibility.

The Senior Center staff also made an appeal for funds in the December newsletter. According to Ludwiczak, they have already raised more than $3,000 from their patrons. They also recently received a check from Wells Fargo for $2,500.

Ludwiczak said had they received the Target grant, the Senior Center would be almost be in good shape financially.

"We were on our way to making our [financial] goals," she said. "We've got a couple of small grants out to the downtown Rotary Club. We were hoping some of the neighborhoods might allocate NRP funding."

The Senior Center is effectively broke by June. It costs $12,000 per month to operate the center, so $84,000 to close the seven-month gap to the end of the year.

Ludwiczak explained that their financial projections had always included $50,000 for three years from Target. "Initially they had indicated that they were interested in funding us for three years at that level," she said. "We were going on some assumptions that we thought were in place for this year."

If more funding cannot be found, Ludwiczak is not sure what will happen.

"We'd have to consider if we cut back our hours or cut back days that we're open," she said.

The Center is currently open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

"We'd probably cut back on our newsletter, which other centers have done," Ludiczak said. "But then you're not promoting what you're doing and letting folks know what's available. That's the hard part."

The worst-case scenario would be that the Senior Center would close completely. Most do not believe that would happen.

Said Kildow, "I just don't think we'll lose the Center. This is much too good to let go."

For Joanne Labernik, a member of the Senior Center Advisory committee, losing the Center would not only be difficult because she helped found it but would miss the friends she's made there.

"I really enjoy visiting with the people at the Center," she said. "There are people there who are lawyers and doctors, then there are folks who have had these wonderful life experiences. It's just a great place to go."