Nonprofits join forces to explore community center options for Wareham seniors

Feb 9, 2018

There are 8,000 seniors in Wareham, roughly one-third of the town’s population, “and we don’t provide enough services as far as I’m concerned,” said Selectman Alan Slavin.

That lack of support has galvanized residents and several nonprofits, spurring them to form a new coalition. Slavin and YMCA officials, recently announced that the group will work towards raising funds for building a community center inside the Gleason Family YMCA.

“The Y is open to conversations and potential partnerships that will bring increased access and programs to seniors in our area,” said Rhonda Veugen, development director for YMCA Southcoast and a Wareham resident. “We feel the Gleason Family YMCA is a perfect location as we already have classes for older adults.”

Currently, the Council on Aging is based inside the lower level of the Multi-Service Center and provides limited programs, overseen by Director Missy Dziczek.

Up until this summer, a state grant funded a full-time salary for Dziczek. The grant expired in June, however, Dziczek has continued to work five hours per week, her position funded by some of the state money the town receives for senior programming.

In 2012 and 2013, the Council on Aging received $82,000 from the town to offer services. In 2014, town voters defeated a ballot question that would have raised an additional $4.5 million via real estate and personal property taxes. Without those funds, several town services were cut, including budgets for the Council on Aging and Wareham Free Library.

Slavin said the new collaboration will be between the Gleason Family YMCA, Council on Aging and the Boys & Girls Club. Slavin said by leveraging a partnership, it’s more likely the group will secure grants from state and federal sources as well as private donors.

Slavin said plans call for establishing a board made up of YMCA employees, Boys & Girls Club leaders, a liaison from the Board of Selectmen and Council on Aging members.

Veugen said the idea, at this point, is to take existing space at the Gleason Family YMCA and expand it for new, community-oriented programs catering to seniors and teenagers.

“We have the basic facilities that would work – the gymnasium, pool – but what we need is a bigger area to do community programming,” said Veugen.

Melissa Dyer, senior program director for the Gleason Family YMCA, agreed.

“With the current resources that the Y offers, it makes sense to bring the public to the facility versus supplying the instructors and materials to the town groups in inadequate spaces as we do now,” said Dyer. “With expansion, the opportunities for a healthier Wareham are attainable.”

Slavin estimated that the new space would cost an estimated $2 to $3 million, and it would be built using a mix of grants and privately raised funds. Because the new center would rely on those funding sources, he said the new center would be immune from municipal budget cuts.

“I won’t do anything personally unless it’s sustainable,” said Slavin.

The new center wouldn’t affect the work of the Council on Aging, which would continue to operate in the Multi-Service Center, or its current programs, including the popular, volunteer-driven Meals on Wheels, said Veugen.

“This is not a replacement for what’s going on,” she said. “This is a collaboration.”

With the announcement, officials said next steps include forming the partnership and then exploring fundraising options. Specific design plans and how the center will be run are still far in the future.

For now, they said the hard work of forming a collaboration begins.

“The only way we can make this work is to get together,” said Slavin.