Danville Express

Newsfront - April 27, 2007

Survey shows older folks leave Danville for recreation

Town hopes to have program coordinator, facility for seniors

by Natalie O'Neill

The future looks brighter for Danville seniors. Older adults may get a full time senior-only program coordinator - and a centralized facility - as part of the town's effort to improve recreation for the demographic.

As a response to a senior needs assessment taken by a professional research team, the Parks and Leisure Services Commission recommended last week that short term improvements begin. About 40 seniors attended the town hall meeting, where they heard survey results and gave emotionally charged feedback.

"Modest though it was, it was quite a tectonic shift when compared to what we have had in the past," said Chris Panton, who is part of the Danville Senior Alliance and a liaison to the town.

Results from a senior needs assessment, conducted by BW Research Partnership, showed the majority of residents 55 and older involved in recreation activities sought them outside the town. About 500 Danville residents were surveyed by phone.

"What's surprising is how many seniors are going out of town," said Josh Williams, a representative from BW Research, told the commission.

The reason for this, some seniors say, is because there has been no centralized senior center or staff that identifies with them. In addition, they hope the activities they have asked for will be provided - like the widely requested lunch hour for socializing, eating and doing "nothing in particular."

Outspoken senior spokeswoman Linda Stolow told the commission that even with the survey complete, it's important to listen to what vocal seniors say they want and need.

"It's easy to get caught up in the numbers and forget about the people," she said.

"This town does a lot for soccer and swimming. Now it's time to do something for seniors - talk about the 'S' words," she said.

Commission member Kevin Donovan may have hit the nail on the head, many seniors said, when he acknowledged the need for a town staff member who would do more than just coordinate programs.

"One thing that hit me hard was that instead of a program coordinator we may need a senior advocate and coordinator," Donovan said.

If the funds are approved as they currently are proposed, $60,000 will go toward hiring a fulltime senior-only programmer.

"This should not be an entry level position, but a person with proven experience who can develop programs, manage the center and who is a 'wow' with the seniors," Panton said.

Twenty-one percent of Danville residents are 55 and older, according to the most recent census. Less than 10 percent of the total 2005-06 park and recreation expenditures went to programs for seniors.

The survey showed the majority of seniors requested entertainment like concerts or plays, fitness and classes, a gathering place, day trips and computer classes.

Betty Joyce, 75, told the commission the survey should not have included residents in their 50s. These people are not seniors and are not interested in the same things as residents in their 70s, she said.

"Do you think I am interested in taking a computer class and confusing myself? No. I am not," she said.

Town Manager Joe Calabrigo acknowledged there was not a consensus among seniors about the results of the survey, but said he viewed it as a strong starting point.

"What pleases me is that the issue was raised six months ago and we said we'd have (the needs assessment) wrapped up by April. ... We'll continue to fine-tune it. Now I have to go back to the office and find the money for (improvements)," Calabrigo said after the meeting.

Joyce also pointed out that $250,000 of the town's budget has gone to the Dog Park at Hap Magee Ranch Park, while the improvements to the senior programs are estimated at $140,000.

"Seniors are important, and we are more important than a dog," she said, prompting the room to erupt in applause.

Money for extended programs, facilities and staff would draw from the town's general fund and would not pull from existing programs, Danville Assistant Town Manager Marcia Somers said.

In October a group of seniors approached the Town Council citing reasons they were displeased with the recreation services the town offered them. In response, the town held workshops in January to understand senior priorities. At these meetings seniors voiced they wanted a meeting place that is easily accessible.

Last week some seniors were upset that the town proposed Hap Magee Ranch Park for a multi-use senior facility.

"When seniors say they want a central location, they mean central - not stuck out on the Alamo border," Panton said.

BW Research currently estimates that about 10,300 seniors live in Danville, a number that was taken from the amount of senior residents registered to vote.

The senior population is expected to grow significantly in the next 10 years, as the aging baby boomer generation reaches its 60s.

Communication was also pinpointed as a way to improve senior recreation. Funds will now go toward increasing the quality, production and distribution of the Silver Streak newsletter.

"I think it's a positive step forward. I want to see us catch up with Walnut Creek and San Ramon," Stolow said.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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