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Senior center growing, receives money from hurricane fund

Picayune’s senior center is the recipient of a large grant that will help the center hire a full time staff member and possibly expand hours and the number of programs.

Through the efforts of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, the Hurricane Fund for the Elderly and several other charitable organizations, the Picayune Senior Center received $53,300 to help improve its services for seniors.

Dr. Ted Alexander, CEO of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, said the Hurricane Fund for the Elderly was put together by the Grant Makers in Aging, an organization based in Ohio, for institutions that were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina. They worked for months with different organizations and agencies to put together several million dollars.

Alexander said he was named to the Hurricane Fund for the Elderly advisory board because of what the county went through and because institutions located here are eligible for the grant.

Jennifer Campbell, director of the Hurricane Fund for the Elderly, said that several citizens in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were selected to be part of the committee to help find where there were needs.

“… because those were the states that were hit hardest by Katrina,” Alexander said.

Campbell said about half of the committee members were selected from the gulf states after the storm because they had a strong knowledge of the needs in their areas. Alexander said the HFE received between 75 to 100 applications for funding, and that Picayune’s Senior Center request was in the first round of those approved. Of those early applications, only 20 grants were approved and issued in the three states to help the elderly population affected by the storm.

“They didn’t fund everyone,” Alexander said. “Only the best prepared were funded.”

The Hurricane Fund for the Elderly collected about $5 million to distribute to the three states, Campbell said. Picayune Senior Center is receiving $53,300 in funds from the Hurricane Fund for the Elderly and the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation. The LPRVF donated $25,508 while the HFE donated $27,792.

Seed money was provided to the Hurricane Fund for the Elderly by the Robert Johnson Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies, Campbell said. The rest of the funds came from a number of different organizations, she said.

Campbell said the needs selected for funding were selected based on what would best help the rebuilding process and seniors at the same time.

“So it was really to strengthen and improve the life of senior citizens,” Campbell said.

The funding will help the Senior Center hire an executive director to help organize and maintain the operations of the center.

The center now has only one paid employee, said Olga Everett, Senior Center president. All other staff work is on a volunteer basis, which varies according to the work that needs to be done, she said. The center serves the needs of about 150 paying members and also provides services to about 50 other regularly attending seniors, Everett said.

Everett said the executive director will conduct strategic planning based on an evaluation of the weaknesses and strengths of the center. Then the center would consider adding more services or making the current services available more often. That could entail longer hours during the week or service hours during the weekends, she said. The center now serves seniors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.

The executive director may write grant applications for more funding through grants, but if that’s not possible Senior Center officials would consider hiring someone to do that.

Some new services that have been considered include hosting short day-trips to places of interest, dance classes, water coloring classes, more social gatherings, or male oriented programs. Dr. Bill Hawley, treasurer of the senior center, said that usually male seniors do not take part in senior center programs so the organization has considered adding games such as backgammon, dominoes and horseshoes.

An expansion of the senior center facility will not be funded with this grant, but Everett said the center expects to receive another grant in the near future that could fund an estimated 3,000 square-foot expansion. More information on that grant will come if and when it is approved, she said.