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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Nashua Senior Center board, membership look to the future

NASHUA – Bill Stergion, a longtime Nashua Senior Activity Center member and for several years a member of its Senior Council, can’t recall the last time the center balanced its annual budget since its new home opened eight years ago.

The reason, Stergion told the center’s board of directors and nearly 300 members who packed the board’s annual meeting Wednesday afternoon, is because dwindling revenues and rising costs have prevented a balanced budget all eight years. ...

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NASHUA – Bill Stergion, a longtime Nashua Senior Activity Center member and for several years a member of its Senior Council, can’t recall the last time the center balanced its annual budget since its new home opened eight years ago.

The reason, Stergion told the center’s board of directors and nearly 300 members who packed the board’s annual meeting Wednesday afternoon, is because dwindling revenues and rising costs have prevented a balanced budget all eight years.

But by the time the roughly 90-minute meeting concluded, directors, staff and members alike agreed there is reason to be optimistic for the future of the center, whose membership is approaching 2,000 among a renewed recruitment push by the membership committee.

“We will not let this place close. We will make sure of that,” Board of Aldermen president David Deane, one of several aldermen at the meeting, told the group at the outset.

Fears that membership dues might skyrocket as the board of directors struggles to raise revenue and reverse an alarming trend of annual budget shortfalls prompted the near-standing room only turnout, which was highly unusual for the center’s annual meetings, which typically draw one or two dozen members at the most.

While board treasurer Elizabeth Cepaitis confirmed the center’s bleak financial situation in handouts that show operating losses of $19,000, $5,000 and $11,000 for 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively, she also assured members that rumors that dues might more than triple from the current $35 annually to $125 per year stem from an idea she floated at a recent board meeting – but never got off the ground.

“It was my suggestion, but it wasn’t embraced by the board, and it never made it to committee,” Cepaitis said, adding that she brought it up “as just another way we might be able to raise money.”

Nevertheless, “we can’t ignore the fact that we’re at negative $9,000,” she said, referring to another handout that shows the center’s net income is more than $9,000 less than expected for the first half of 2014.

Additionally disturbing, Cepaitis told members, is that the board’s need to continually take money from the center’s endowment fund to keep the center running has shrunk that fund from $250,000 to $70,000 in eight years.

“We can’t go on (taking from the endowment fund) for much longer,” she said. Cepaitis also projects a roughly $6,500 shortfall in membership dues for 2014, one of several contributors to the danger of ending another year in the red. The center’s annual operating costs hover around $360,000.

“I’m glad so many of you are here today, to see this,” Cepaitis said of the financial numbers. “I ask you, what will it take to keep this wonderful center going?”

About a dozen members rose to speak during the question-and-answer period, about half of whom voiced suggestions on ways to improve revenue. Close to half of those present raised their hands when Deane asked how many would be willing to pay a $50 membership fee.

Ideas ranged from Jim Holmes’s suggestion for starting church-like “offerings,” whereby members could pledge an amount they’re comfortable with each week or month. “There are some wealthy people in this room … I bet this would bring in a lot of money.”

Ray Tunstall urged directors and staff to reach out more to Nashua’s various ethnic communities: “I don’t see a lot of diversity in our membership, but there is a lot in the community,” he said. “Invite (members of minority groups) to our shows, to our events.”

Gail Galipeau, a Senior Council member who volunteers organizing senior trips the center offers, drew applause when she urged members of the board to “come in and sign up for some of our trips.”

Board president Martin Fabian told members that the board, acting on a suggestion by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, has begun exploring a possible “partnership” with another non-profit organization, allowing both entities to benefit from a shared endowment fund, some staff members and one executive director to oversee both operations.

He didn’t name any non-profits, nor indicate if the board has a specific one in mind at this time. But, he said, no final decisions would be made until the membership is surveyed.

Retired Nashua teacher and center member Susan Paul appealed to the board to “have more communication” with members, saying she “never felt welcome” at board meetings she attended.

“Lack of communication is what makes institutions break down,” Paul said. “This rumor (of dues increases) got started with one person. You need to have more input from the membership. This is our place, our social group. We can’t have people who don’t know us make decisions for us,” Paul said to a round of applause.

Fabian said the board welcomes suggestions and input from staff and members, adding that the center seems to be at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting donors.

“Many other non-profits out there are after the same dollar,” he said. “We’re always last when it comes to getting allocations.”

Ward 7 alderman and center board member June Caron said the organization needs more visibility. “We need to do more public relations for the senior center. We have to look at the total picture: How to we get our name out there,” said Caron, who is also chairman of the board’s membership committee.

Fabian told members they are “welcome” to attend the board’s monthly meetings, which take place on the fourth Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m. at the center.

“The Senior Activity Center will remain open,” Fabian added. But we need your help. We need to work together.”

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