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Landmark News Service
FORT LAWN – When the decision was made last week to close the Fort Lawn Senior Center, the town’s mayor and Chester County leaders immediately sprang into action to seek alternatives to keep the center in operation.
On Tuesday, York County Council on Aging Director Wendy Duda informed Chester County Council members that due to budget shortfalls and attendance numbers, the Fort Lawn Senior Center will close.
On average, about 18 seniors attend the Fort Lawn center, but 25 are required by federal guidelines, Duda said.
Also many of these seniors only attend for the lunch meal and do not participate in other activities, she said.
Duda said closing the center was not what she wanted to do but, ultimately, the decision was “what impacted the fewest people.”
On Wednesday, Fort Lawn Mayor John Rumford met with about 20 Fort Lawn seniors at the center to offer an alternative plan. This temporary alternative will allow the seniors to continue to eat and fellowship five days a week.
“Is this something that interests you?” Rumford asked the seniors. “If not, there is no need for us to continue.”
With a show of hands, the seniors overwhelmingly agreed to the temporary plan.
Mike Wessinger, executive director of Senior Services of Chester County, addressed the crowd to explain that he can enlist the services of a caterer from Newberry to provide daily lunch meals.
The seniors will be required to pay $2.50 per meal, a dollar more than they now pay, and will be responsible for giving a head-count one day prior for meals to be ordered, Wessinger said.
At least 15 seniors must sign up for the catered meals to be delivered, he said.
“The main thing here is the meal becomes your responsibility to pay for,” Wessinger said. “It’s a little work on your part – to pay for the meal and to be here if you say you’re gonna be here.”
Jennifer Bower, executive director of the Fort Lawn Community Center, told the seniors the plan takes effect Feb. 1., because Jan. 31 is when York County Council on Aging will sever ties with Chester County Senior Services.
The Fort Lawn Community Center then will assume responsibility for all utilities at the senior center, Bower said.
Also at that time, if necessary, Bower will provide volunteers from the community center to help with ordering, serving and cleaning up after the meals. She also plans to assist through writing grants to help finance the senior program, she said.
“At this point, the (community) center has no money in the budget for this program,” Bower said. “Right now, there’s very little money, but we’re going to make it work.”
Chester County Councilman Brad Jordan told the seniors he would make a request to county leaders to contact the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to specifically ask for a waiver of the 25 senior per day requirement.
Rumford expressed doubts that this measure would work.
“Judging from the tone of her (Duda’s) letter and what she stated last night, I don’t think there’s any chance of a waiver,” Rumford said. “Based on the numbers, she’s not willing.”
On Thursday, the board of directors for the Fort Lawn Community Center, Inc. approved continuation of services for the seniors with meals to be provided by Chester Senior Services, Rumford said. The details will be worked out between Bower and Wessinger.