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Fighting for our SENIORS!

Written By: Kate Joyce, , SSC news

For 15 years I have loved to go to work. It is the job of my life and I have met so many wonderful people. I have seen romances, weddings and deaths. I call myself the Cruise Director instead of executive director – cos I get to plan the activities & parties for everyone. It’s our job to connect people and resources when they need help – everything is online now and a lot of seniors don’t EVEN want a computer. We help with applications for Social Security, employment and housing, we don’t offer legal advice, we make referrals to Legal Aid of Oklahoma and Aging Services. We’ve saved lives when people were at the senior center instead of home alone. We call the police when needed and give people rides if they miss the bus. It’s a very happy place.

Shawnee Senior Center is a home away from home for most of the participants who come here. We do our best to make it comfortable for everyone. We’re open 8am – 5pm, Monday thru Friday and there are people waiting in the parking lot when we arrive – to play pool! Our people are a pretty dedicated bunch!

Our Senior Fitness Program has classes morning and afternoon, we offer delicious and nutritious meals, too. Most of our seniors have shared that they get their hot meal with us, at lunch, and eat cereal, toast, sandwiches, etc. at home. Many of our seniors live independently and are widowed. They don’t want to prepare a meal and eat it alone when they can enjoy the fellowship at Shawnee Senior Center. We are a place to socialize, create, play, learn and educate. And we focus on providing these services to the senior population because it is our goal to reduce loneliness for our clientele. Almost everything we do is free to the seniors with the exception of our $2 lunches.

We open our doors to all races, religions, rich and poor. Some of our participants are offended by homeless people in our building. We will not discriminate. Everyone is welcome who is 50 years of age and better as long as they are willing to abide by a code of conduct we expect all people to share. I have had to show people to the restrooms to wash up. I have had private conversations about hygiene. This is a public building. We receive taxpayer dollars and we pinch those pennies til Lincoln screams.

So, let’s talk money for a second. The City contracted with the Board for just under $117,000 in fiscal year 2018-19. The rest of the budget, roughly $133,000 is received by writing grants, finding sponsorships, seeking donations, and we raise money to support programs for Shawnee seniors. We provide $250,000 in services, programs and activities – that means more than half of our budget is raised by staff. We also provide employment for three full time and five part time Shawnee residents who might not otherwise be employed because it is our policy to offer preference to seniors as a component of being a Senior Center. By contracting with the Senior Citizens of Shawnee, Inc. to manage Shawnee Senior Center, the City of Shawnee, and her citizens, receives the best value for the dollars they invest.

Interim City Manager, Eric Benson contacted my board members to meet with him as a group. According to board members, they were not advised this meeting pertained to the contract between Senior Citizens of Shawnee, Inc. and potential issues regarding contract performance. Nor were they told there might be cause to terminate that the contractual relationship which has been in place for 34 years.

I have experienced, first hand, the tactics of a very well paid bully, fill-in city manager, Eric Benson. I was told by Mr. Benson, that our contract would not be renewed and my staff and I were to be terminated. He offered to pay staff to June 30, the end of our contract, even if they left before, but if anyone made waves we would not be paid.

Mr. Benson has stated I was told that we would have one year to straighten up the senior center or we would lose our contract. That did not happen. Further, I am not a City of Shawnee employee. Those discussions are suppose to go before the board and be presented in writing. Again – that didn’t happen. Basically, they are coming in and taking over now that we have grown the Shawnee Senior Center into an amazing, award winning, Blue Zone Certified and Certified Healthy Oklahoma place, and throwing us out the back door!!

In the Countywide News article of May 2, 2019, Mr. Benson has attempted to make me the scapegoat to give this transition a reason to even take place. I have decided it’s not worth five paychecks to allow Mr. Benson to bully me. At least have the guts to be honest about your intent. I have been thinking about disgruntled employee stuff and I don’t believe I’m disgruntled. I love my bosses! My board! AND THEY HAVE BEEN DISSED!! Circumvented for a political agenda to provide a lesser service to the citizens than they are currently receiving – and for that reason, I am outraged.

In order for the citizens of Shawnee to accept this transition, City of Shawnee has implied that money has been mishandled or misappropriated, that I am dishonest. Please – feel free to come and look at our books. Each of my grants has its own account – including the City contract money, I know exactly what I’m spending it on and why. For 15 years we have been totally transparent as a charitable corporation. There has been no previous concerns identified to my board that have not been addressed.

The City has said they would be expanding the programs – with less money and less staff. That’s not possible. With the exception of James Bryce, who is now the Director of Operations for the City of Shawnee and with whom we have worked for the last 15 years, the remaining people involved in this action do not know anything about the Shawnee Senior Center as a program. Shawnee Senior Center is a bright spot in this community. Organizations and clubs meet here. People grow and create here.

I am writing this because I will no longer be bullied. I’m not disgruntled – I love my job. I just want to tell the people of Shawnee that this has been the experience of my life. I love the people that come into my building and have been blessed with wonderful program sponsors such as Walmart Foundation, Shawnee Milling Company, Area Agency on Aging, and the Avedis Foundation.

Now, many of you out there know my Board members (past and present) by name, reputation and by the services they have performed in this community over the years. They are good people who want to see Shawnee be the best place it can be. These are not a group of slackers thrown together because we needed warm bodies to fill seats. We sought them out to bring their expertise to the table. And if you’ve ever served on a board, you know there’s a learning curve here. We meet monthly and review programs and finances. Thanks to the AVEDIS Foundation, we have been able to take advantage of board training opportunities and bring them back to train all of our board members. These people have nothing but the best intentions for Shawnee Senior Center and our mission. Most of them are seniors themselves! Remember, you only have to be 50 and “better” to participate!

Now, as a citizen of this community, I have an aversion to hidden agendas, backroom deals and most of all, people who bully and take advantage of one segment of our community as a means to their own ends. And again, as a citizen, this city represents all of us. Is this the way you want to be treated? Is this the way you want to treat others? It may be too late to change anything for the Senior Citizens of Shawnee, Inc., but as citizens, we should never let this method of doing business happen again in our community.

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