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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nashua Senior Center members rally in dispute over dues, representation

UPDATE: A half-dozen people, some holding signs, gathered in front of the Nashua Senior Activity Center on Wednesday morning to call attention to the group’s Aug. 13 annual meeting. A full story will come later.

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UPDATE: A half-dozen people, some holding signs, gathered in front of the Nashua Senior Activity Center on Wednesday morning to call attention to the group’s Aug. 13 annual meeting. A full story will come later.

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NASHUA – Having depended for years on donations, grants, membership dues and occasional rental income to cover its operational costs, the Nashua Senior Activity Center – which, unlike most agencies of its kind, receives no funds from the annual city budget – appears to have reached a critical juncture in its attempts to find adequate funding sources.

One potential solution that’s been tossed around – tripling, or even quadrupling, the current membership dues – has triggered outrage that, according to people familiar with the center’s operation, led to the organization of a group protest planned Wednesday morning at the center at 70 Temple St.

With the center’s annual meeting scheduled for Aug. 13, the apparent rift between the center’s board of directors and its staff and membership already has claimed its top executive. Jeanne Marcoux, executive director since March 2011, abruptly resigned Friday, a day after the board’s last meeting.

The content of the meeting likely motivated Marcoux, who originally planned to retire May 1, then moved it to Dec. 31, then to Aug. 29, to depart Friday, according to a person close to the organization who asked for anonymity.

Board president Martin Fabian couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Board treasurer Elizabeth Cepaitis said it was she who floated the idea of sharply increasing membership dues, but in return, including all the center’s six- to eight-week programs in the dues. Currently, programs cost $35 each, she said.

“It was just a proposal I made,” she said, adding that “the board did not embrace it. Increasing dues is just one of the ways we were talking about” to help bring in funding, Cepaitis said.

“The dues would be higher, but members would attend all of those (programs) at no additional charge. But what I found is that many members don’t take the programs, so I understand why,” she said of members’ protests.

David Fredette, a board member who was appointed earlier this year by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, said while the topic of possibly raising membership dues has come up, reports that they could triple or quadruple isn’t accurate.

“That’s an exaggeration,” Fredette said. “I know I wouldn’t support such a large increase, and I don’t think many other (board members) would either.”

He described the financial crunch as not unusual for agencies of its kind.

“Like any nonprofit, they have their challenges,” he said, adding that rumors that the agency may shut down are untrue.

Patricia Francis, the center’s former longtime director who retired in 2008, said many members are rallying their fellow members to attend the annual meeting to “express to the board their concerns.”

Francis, who became a center volunteer after she retired and regularly runs its bingo games and assists with projects, said she believes board members should be far more visible.

“I always felt they should be more involved in the community on behalf of the center: promoting events, getting people active in wanting to support it,” she said.

Francis, in a letter to the editor that appeared in Tuesday’s Telegraph, criticized city officials for not introducing a budget line item to help fund the center.

“Hudson supports their center, and so do Pelham, Salem, Manchester,” she wrote. “And many other (cities and towns) do. Nashua does not. What can the problem be?”

Cepaitis agreed that receiving regular city funding would go a long way toward solving the center’s financial challenges, but also pointed out the fact the city floated a 20-year bond to build the center and the senior housing units on its upper floors.

“To be fair, what the city does do is pay on that bond every year. But we still need to work hard to meet the costs,” she said of the board.

Francis said one of her chief goals throughout her 30 years as senior center director was to keep membership dues as low as possible.

“My main thing was to keep dues affordable so more seniors can belong,” she said. The lack of regular city funding compounded that challenge, she said, but she kept low dues a top priority.

Francis empathized with Marcoux, saying she knows what it’s like to be in that position. Add to the mix the shrinking pool of potential grant sources, and a difficult situation becomes almost impossible.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).