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Senior Center appeals for help

Ely Echo - Staff Photo
ELY SENIORS filled the council chambers Tuesday night in support of funding for the Senior Center.

by Tom Coombe

Ely’s struggling Senior Center will get at least $7,500 in city support in 2024, and perhaps more.

After hearing pleas from Senior Center leaders and supporters, city council members voted 6-0 to put $7,500 in next year’s budget as a “placeholder.”

Treasurer Linda Maki asked the council for $24,000 to aid with annual operations for the senior gathering place, but city officials said they needed more time and information before agreeing to the larger amount.

“If more is needed, perhaps a plan should be put together,” said council member Paul Kess, who suggested further discussions involving Maki and members of the city’s budget committee.  “Some sense of overall planning should be put together.”

Council member Al Forsman seemed to agree.

“I think having this in there is a good place to start,” he said.

Located on First Avenue East, across from the avenue from old Community Center building, the Senior Center has in some ways filled some of the gaps created by the closure of that building.

In addition to senior-related events, the facility is the home for voting in Ely on election days, the Praise Fellowship Church, dances, weight loss and support group meetings and an array of community meetings, events and activities.

“We’ve taken up the slack,” said Maki. “Even though our name says senior center, we provide services to the whole community, we are the community center. There should be some room in your budget for the community center.”

At age 72, Maki said she is the youngest member of a board that also includes 86-year-old president Theresa Jamnick,  85-year-old vice president Virgie Ivancich, and 92-year-old secretary Joan Luhta.

The board oversees the non-profit group that was formed nearly 40 years ago and owns and operates the Senior Center.

“We are struggling to keep our Senior Center - a place where everyone is welcome,” Maki told the council. “We need your help.”

Maki said the group has only a handful of active members who “work tirelessly to keep the doors open,” holding fundraisers and leading space in the building to keep the facility open.

They sponsor bingo games, bake sales, raffles, rummage sales and luncheons to help meet monthly expenses of roughly $2,000.

The group has also raised significantly more to make capital improvements to the building, recently remodeling the kitchen, windows, doors, lighting and ceiling at a cost of $120,000.

While entities such as the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board can be tapped for major improvement projects, Maki said the group needs more help with month-to-month operations and noted that other senior centers in the region receive help from local units of government.

Maki cited both the median age of Ely (52) and of the city council (58) in making her pitch.

While stopping short of pledging a specific amount, council members all donned buttons passed out by the seniors who packed the meeting room and mayor Heidi Omerza was among those offering support.

“The city of Ely over the last few years has been a good financial partner with the Senior Center,” she said, pointing to cooperation  on capital projects. “We are not going to leave you out in the lurch.”

Kess also pointed to the dedication of the group and said the $7,500 allocation recommended by the city’s budget committee, which came after Maki appeared before the group earlier, may have been the result of some miscommunication.

“At the time there didn’t seem to be an urgent need,” said Kess. “No specific amount was asked for. Regardless of that, knowing the Senior Center deserves our support we put in the $7,500 allocation”

Langowski said that other units of government could also be tapped for help, pointing to a current $400 subsidy in place from Morse Township.

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