Alexian Brothers Senior Neighbors has led programs at the Boynton Terrace, Gateway Towers and Mary Walker Towers apartment sites for more than three decades, but this year the funding and the programming that served hundreds of elderly residents went elsewhere.
"I was shocked," said 67-year-old Jewel McSpadden, vice president of the Gateway resident association. "With them over here, there was structured programs. Now we have to start over."
For the last seven years, the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability has provided grant funding to Alexian Brothers Senior Neighbors. That money paid for programs at eight housing sites in the Westside.
This year, the agency gave the money, between $44,000 and $45,000, to the Eastgate Senior Center. The agency stipulated that the center provide programming for low-income seniors in the Westside and at Mary Walker Towers in Alton Park, said Steve Witt, director of the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability.
Funding to Alexian Brothers Senior Neighbors for Boynton and Mary Walker apartments ran out July 1. Programs ended July 29, said Matt Fox, president and CEO of Alexian Brothers. Fox said he tried to keep programs going until other activities could be put in place.
Witt said officials with Chattanooga's Department of Education, Arts and Culture already have started meeting with Boynton and Mary Walker residents to determine what activities they want.
Unlike Alexian Senior Neighbors that staffed the site five days a week, the Eastgate Senior Center or city officials will provide programs there two or three times a week, said Melissa Turner, communications director. The center programs probably will be scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to coincide with a nutrition program at Boynton, she said.
Line dancing, arts and crafts and transportation to shopping trips are among the activities residents are suggesting.
However, programs provided by the Eastgate Center will depend on participation by residents, Turner said. Resident participation had been declining, said McSpadden, a former worker at the Boynton center.
Missy Crutchfield, Department of Education, Arts and Culture administrator, said several seniors recently have participated in discussions about programs they'd like to see at the center. She said she plans to distribute a tentative calendar of citywide events scheduled for seniors within the next week.
But Boynton residents aren't just waiting for Eastgate and city officials to provide programs for them. They've come up with some activities themselves.
"It's either that or sitting out here on these benches doing nothing," said Bennie Haynes, vice president of the Boynton resident council.
Haynes and other residents have organized games of pool, cards and dominoes since Alexian Senior Neighbors left. They've also been talking with the Senior Arts Council about offering some activities or hosting meetings at Boynton.
"We're putting a program in place right now as far as the things we like to do," said Haynes. "We're going to do something."