Eight Montgomery County community centers to lose senior program
Seven other communities affected; fees to be charged for using exercise facilities
Brenda Sheffield, 59, and her mother, Lillie Mae Kitt, 95, love playing bridge, listening to music and dancing with friends at the Germantown Community Center.
Since summer 2008, the two have taken a free bus service twice a week from their doorstep to the center, where they mingle with other seniors and Sheffield sometimes fits in a workout.
But, as of Friday, Sheffield and Kitt, who live together in Germantown, must find their own ride to the center. No bridge game will be under way when they arrive. And as of Jan. 1, Dence and Sheffield must pay an annual fee to use the workout rooms, as the Montgomery County Department of Recreation squeezes older adult programming into a much tighter budget.
The Neighborhood Senior Program has been cut at eight centers, including Germantown. That, in turn, ended the Department of Health and Human Service's bus service that Sheffield and Kitt relied on.
The department also tacked on a $50 fee for its Silver Sneakers program, which allowed county residents older than 55 to work out for free in the weight and exercise rooms of recreation, community and senior centers countywide.
Sheffield said she hopes she can continue to work out at the center, although it will be difficult. She would have to take two buses and pay the fee out of her disability income.
The recreation department's budget was reduced from $30.5 million in fiscal 2010 to $25.9 million this year, according to Judy Stiles, a department spokeswoman. The department tried to protect programs for seniors and children, but had to make some cuts, Stiles said.
"I hate that we are in a position that we have had to make cuts," she said. "But we do the best we can to protect anything we can.'"
Walter Dence of Cabin John started biweekly workouts with his wife after she injured her knee a year ago. Dence, who exercises through the Silver Sneakers program at Clara Barton Neighborhood Recreation Center, keeps a log of his progress and says he feels much stronger.
"It's made a lot of difference," Dence said.
The new fee is a small burden for Dence.
"I'm not sure I would have started with the fee," he said. "But now that I have a routine, it fits into my schedule."
The county's Neighborhood Senior Program provided social events, refreshments and field trips in 11 community centers. About 70 percent of the 470 seniors in the program were registered at the eight centers where it has been canceled.
The program initially was slated to be cut from all 11 centers, which would have saved $114,897, according to Jeffrey Bourne, a division chief in the recreation department.
The county will continue the program at centers in Burtonsville, Sandy Spring and Silver Spring because they offer a lunch program, Bourne said. Bus service will continue to those locations. The three programs will cost $23,400, reducing the total saved to $91,497.
Michelle Koski, who runs the Germantown program, said members there cried when they heard it was canceled. About 50 seniors attend on Mondays and 20 to 30 come on Tuesdays, Koski said.
"It gets them out of the house, so they don't give up," she said.
Exercise increases movement, brain use and balance for seniors, said Judy Brookes, a fitness instructor at the Clara Barton center.
In her classes, she focuses on teaching seniors how to adjust if something hurts. "A lot of seniors come up to me and say I was reaching for something and I thought of you,'" she said.
Exercising together also has a great social benefit for seniors, Brookes said.
Virginia Douglas, 80, of Cabin John, is enrolled in one of Brookes' exercise classes. Douglas is in favor of the $50 fee for the Silver Sneakers progran if it will keep the centers available.
"I don't think $50 a year is going to kill anybody around here," Douglas said of her community. "In other parts of the county, yes."
Revenue from the fee is expected to be about $150,000 per year, Bourne said.
The recreation department regrets charging residents on a fixed income, Stiles said, but is pleased to offer a reduced rate to seniors. Fitness memberships cost other county residents $180 per year, according to the Montgomery County website.
Stiles suggested that those who have trouble paying the senior fee should apply for financial assistance from the recreation department, which has about $1 million available until July 2012, she said.
To find out about financial assistance for Montgomery County Department of Recreation programs or download an application, go to www.montgomery countymd.gov/rec.
Watch the video
See video of George Barilla, who no longer works out at the Germantown Community Center, at gazette.net/video.