Area seniors are navigating through a transition to their daily hangout; the Shawnee Senior Center began its journey under new management this week.

Area seniors are navigating through a transition to their daily hangout; the Shawnee Senior Center began its journey under new management this week.

“The Shawnee Recreation Department is excited to be partnering with seniors in our community by overseeing our local Senior Center,” Assistant City Manager Chance Allison said. “We are committed to providing a safe environment where strong relationships can be built for current and future visitors of the center.”

He said the city's recreation department will focus on enhancing and strengthening Senior Center programs as programming will be expanded to the Municipal Auditorium and Community Center.

Allison said the city is grateful for all the dedication and hard work of the previous staff.

Interim City Manager Eric Benson said he is very pleased with the transition so far and response from the seniors has been favorable.

“We are listening to our customers and prioritizing their desires,” he said.

Of course there is always some apprehension about change, he said, but it was overcome quickly and to every customer's satisfaction.

“That is not to say there are those who don't retain concerns, but we are addressing those individually and quite diligently,” he said.

Benson said he has been quite pleased by the feedback from seniors — most of whom simply wanted to know the facility was not closing.

“There have been very, very few inquiries about previous strategy or operations,” he said. “The seniors simply want to know they still have their facility and are quite pleased when we describe our planned upgrades.”

Meals

There have been few direct answers offered as to why the city decided to end the decades-long partnership, but according to meetings and related comments from officials over the past few months, a conflict in policies may be at issue.

At a Senior Center board meeting in May, Shawnee Director of Operations James Bryce brought up some of those points that appeared to be at odds between the city's goals and the senior center's. At issue seemed to be how the center handled meals and facility access — namely restrooms — encouraging unwanted dependence by area vagrants.

“The city tries to discourage vagrancy in the area through cutting off free and available services,” Bryce said — while the center has had a policy to offer those things to any senior who walks through the doors.

“How are we supposed to know if someone is a vagrant or just homeless?” Board member Evelyn Pipkin asked at that meeting.

The city has stood firm on its policy to ensure vagrants cannot take advantage of the nearby resources — that only seniors will be served; they achieved this by moving the meal service across town.

There has been a minor transition in addressing homeless/vagrant issues, Benson said, but very favorable progress and transition has been noticed.

Benson said the city has made clear its stance on not encouraging vagrancy through abuse of a community resource established specifically for its seniors.

He said meals will be served by Project Heart at the Shawnee Community Center, at 804 S. Park.

“We will not serve daily meals at the senior center,” he said. “This arrangement has been very well received and the challenge has been the transition of habit patterns.”

Once educated, however, he said (seniors) appear to be happy with the solution — the issue being whether they would still have access to meals, and not where those meals will be provided.

“I submit they will enjoy a more consistent fare,” he said.

Benson said seniors with transportation issues still have a way to utilize the service.

“We are using the same carriers that served us before,” he said.

Programs

Benson said programming has continued, though with some minor exceptions.

“We are continuing all of the past activities/programs and adding new ones to better serve our customers and to expand our attractions,” he said.

Legacy residence programs like meals on wheels AARP, COCCA and the other volunteer programs and institutional entities remain in place and are still doing the job that they have always done, he said.

“We leverage those and we rely on them as we are expanding our volunteer base, but specifically we focus on core service issues and how we can best deliver the most important functions, those which our seniors desire,” Benson said.

An updated schedule of activities and programs will be available soon, he said.

Upgrades

Benson said the city has cleaned the facility and removed many, many items that are no longer functional.

“We are placing new carpet and will continue painting and those cosmetic efforts that display a new identity,” he said.

The center is less cluttered and is far more efficient and focus is directed at the desires of the customer, he said.

Benson said though the city is employing a fraction of the staff that was previously in place, he considers it a primary issue of importance.

“We are focusing our efforts on core services and we are not diluting our effort with low-participation programs,” he said. “We are making efforts to train not only our customers, but our new employees — all of whom show great promise.”

Background

When the Community Service Contract Review Committee met in April to discuss annual city funding for various nonprofit groups, the Shawnee Senior Center was among those that failed to gain support from the review committee for a contract next year.

Despite a second submitted contract proposal from the Senior Center in June, Shawnee City Commissioners denied renewal.

The center's existing contract just expired last week (June 30); the city's Parks and Rec. Department has officially taken over operation of the facility.

To volunteer

If anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer ambassador, email shawneeparksandrec@shawneeok.org.