By Mike Gardiner

A couple of weeks ago the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission (APRC) voted to adopt the recommendations for reorganizing the operations of the Ashland Senior Program. These recommendations were supported by the Senior Program Subcommittee prior to the review and adoption by the full commission.

This subcommittee was formed by the commission toward the end of 2016 and is but one of 14 official subcommittees of the commission that meet regularly to generate recommendations that ultimately move up to the full commission for discussion and possible implementation. This subcommittee was composed of two commissioners, the Senior Center Program manager and two senior APRC staff members.

The subcommittee agenda established five goals:

Through the gathering of information, gain a greater understanding of the senior program and the function it serves for the citizens of Ashland.
Explore new ways of marketing and program innovation to ensure that the greatest number of citizens are benefited by the senior program.
Evaluate the organizational structure of the program and ensure that the organization of the senior program and the goals for innovation are aligned for efficiency and service delivery.
Seek advocates of the senior program and new ways to increase community involvement through volunteerism.
Evaluate the current senior program policies and create an official subcommittee of APRC reporting directly to the commissioners to ensure collaboration and governance.

Now that’s quite a bit of work. We determined that this effort would take several meetings and several months to complete. Moving forward with this agenda we scheduled meetings to begin in January 2017. Our meeting times, dates and locations were published and we advanced with our goals in an orderly fashion. Members of the public attended these meetings and each meeting agenda provided time for either general public input or input on a specific agenda item.

There were five of these daytime meetings scheduled to allow attendance by all members of the subcommittee. Our sixth and final meeting was held on Tuesday, Aug. 8. The two subcommittee commissioners adopted the proposed subcommittee recommendations at this meeting after listening to an hour of public testimony.

From my vantage point, much of the public testimony focused on ideas and items that were not specifically part of our recommendations but were obviously of concern to the public. There was an outpouring of feelings from the community regarding the current offerings of the Senior Program and how the closure of the Senior Center (not happening), the discontinuation of Food & Friends (not happening), a focused and clear look at cost recovery (possibilities will be evaluated) and the reorganization of management (is happening) would affect the senior population of Ashland.

The feelings of many of these participants as well as letters to the editor and postings on social media often alleged that APRC was closing the Senior Program and that APRC had failed in following normal public meeting guidelines for allowing public input during the process. These comments are not true.

What I can tell you is that APRC is not abandoning the Ashland Senior Program. What APRC will be doing is reorganizing the Ashland Senior Program over the next several months in an effort to better serve those who are 55 and older in Ashland. We will also be researching ways to increase revenue and ensure the program’s resiliency for years to come.

The core services of the program will not be affected by these efforts. Included as core services are Food & Friends (weekday meal program at the Senior Center run by the Rogue Valley Council of Governments), various drop-in offerings (such as mah jongg, cribbage, tai chi, senior yoga and weekly movies) and energy assistance programs (Ashland Low Income Energy Assistance Program, ALIEP, Heat and senior discounts on utilities).

In addition, APRC will form an ad hoc Senior Advisory Committee made up of program participants, related professional field experts, APRC staff and commissioners. This committee will be formed to start work in October 2017. APRC will also form an official Senior Program Subcommittee of the commission after the ad hoc committee has completed its work. Both committees will help form the vision of the future of the Ashland Senior Program.

You can help APRC take the Ashland Senior Program to the next level by becoming a volunteer on the Ashland Senior Program Ad Hoc Committee and/or volunteering with the Ashland Senior Program.

— Mike Gardiner is chair of the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission. The Park Views column appears monthly.