This is the first in a series about two centers in Ramona, one for older people and one for teens. This article targets the Ramona Senior Center, which celebrated its 37th anniversary this spring. Arriba Teen Center celebrated its second anniversary in September. The future of both is in jeopardy. Without higher attendance, the senior center may close, says its director. The teen center needs more adult volunteers.
By MAUREEN ROBERTSON
Unless something changes at Ramona Senior Center, “if we’re here in 18 months, I’d be surprised,” Ray Cardona, center director, said.
“We’re trying to get people to reach out to seniors to bring them in so they know — we’re the best kept secret in town,” Cardona said.
Take A Senior to Lunch Day at the center on Tuesday, Nov. 15, is a step toward introducing more residents age 60 and older to the center. Each senior at the center is encouraged to bring another person to lunch to see all the center offers.
“The idea is to get somebody who hasn’t been here, let them know who we are and what we’re all about,” said Cardona, director for nearly nine years.
Another step is a slight name change. Volunteers answering the center’s telephone no longer say, “Good morning, Ramona Senior Center.” It’s “Good morning, Ramona Senior Activity Center.”
Soon it will be, “Good morning, Ramona Nutrition and Activity Center,” said Cardona, extolling the many opportunities at the center.
Open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Ramona Community Center at 434 Aqua Lane, the senior center provides lunch, classes ranging from exercise to computers, a Wii game, pool table, reading material, Ramblers travel group — even a big-screen television.
“We need to build up our clientele,” said Cardona, explaining “the way we get paid from the county is per person who signs in for lunch.”
With a 2011-12 operating budget of about $400,000, the center already has a deficit of $23,000, said Cardona. The budget year started July 1.
The Ramona center, operated by the Pacific Educational Facilities, is one of the original nutrition sites in San Diego County, Cardona said, commenting on changes he’s seen that reflect today’s society as well as reality.
At its attendance peak, about 95 people a day filled the center. The average has dropped to 40.
“Of the original seniors, seven are alive,” said Cardona. “In August, the last three weeks of August, we had 11 seniors pass away...We lost some incredibly dear dear friends, and the surviving spouse, some had to go to nursing homes because they were taking care of each other.”
Because of the economy, “new seniors are having to work longer or they’re moving in with their kids or they’re moving their kids in,” he said.
Because in many two-parent homes both spouses must work, “in some cases, grandma and grandpa are the babysitters,” he added.
“This is not your meat and potatoes senior,” Cardona said. “They’re your tofu...’Oh, my God, that is for old people.’”
He fondly recalled Mabel Leggitt, who died a month before her 101st birthday. “This place is for old people,” she told You Are Not Alone (YANA) volunteers when she was 99.
YANA volunteers convinced her to celebrate her 100th birthday at the center, said Cardona, “and from that day forward she had to be here every day.”
If he had his druthers, Cardona would match high school students with the seniors, the center would be on Main Street near Ramona Library, and more people would use the Wii game that has, among other features, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Shooting Gallery, Bowling, Golf and Baseball.
“I wish we could go next to the library, he said. “I think that would be such a boon to us. I think we need the exposure.”
While the park setting on Aqua Lane is wonderful, he said, it doesn’t offer the daily exposure a Main Street location would provide. “We’ve heard it so many times that they don’t know there is a senior center.”
The center’s Paper Plate fundraiser campaign is this month through December. “I wish I could get each person in the community to send us a buck,” said Cardona.
Money shouldn’t influence a person, said Cardona. The suggested donation for lunch is $4 but people unable to pay don’t have to, said Cardona. “We will not turn you away. This is not charity. They worked for it.”
Meal donations go in a red box as people sign in, he said. “The box is hidden, so nobody knows what people put in or don’t put in.”
Others in the community are welcome. Meals cost non-seniors $6, and one has to be at least age 18 to play bingo.
The center also serves as a clearinghouse for information. “If I don’t have it, I’ll find it,” said Cardona.
For more information about the center, have lunch there on Tuesday or call 760-789-0440.