Elizabeth Berkley misses the exercise classes for seniors Akron held at Lawton Street Community Center.
She also liked the walks at local parks the city sponsored.
“That really helped me,” said Berkley, who walks with a cane. “It kept my balance on the level. Now, I’m beginning to decline.”
Berkley, of Akron, and other seniors are pleased the city has restored programming for the city’s older adults that was axed during budget cuts five years ago. They say the programs help keep seniors active and connected with their community.
“We lost a lot of contact when the city cut us off,” said Berkley, who is a great-great-grandmother. “I can see why; they had other things that were important to them. I’m very happy to hear that it’s coming back.”
Akron City Council voted Monday night to add $25,000 to the Recreation Department in the city’s 2013 operating budget, enough to restore programs cut in 2009. Councilman Jeff Fusco pushed for the addition after hearing from many seniors who missed the exercise programs, trips to other cities and other activities Akron had sponsored.
“We all know how important this is to senior citizens,” he said.
The city transferred money from the Finance Department to the Department of Neighborhood Assistance, which includes parks and recreation. Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson thinks her department will be able to weather the cut.
“We are reviewing the impact,” she said.
Akron is not restoring funding for other popular activities at the community centers that was cut in the fall of 2009, including popular preschool and after-school programs. A few of the community centers, however, have redesigned and restarted these programs to make up for the former ones.
“We are definitely not back to 2008-09,” said a very pleased Greg Kalail, the city’s parks and recreation director. “But we’re getting there.”
Sally Nyburg, Akron’s active adult coordinator, is one of the people most happy about funding being restored. She has been doing other jobs for the city since the cuts were made. “I am so excited to be doing what I love once again,” she said.
Nyburg plans to take a close look at the senior programming to decide what should be brought back and what needs to be changed or updated. She’s hoping this will provide an opportunity to begin programs that can appeal to younger seniors, “from the Baby Boomers on up.”
“Some of the programming isn’t as realistic,” she said. “Some of the needs have changed. We will bring back everything still pertinent to seniors.”
Nyburg said, for example, the city might offer a class on how to use Facebook rather than one on punch embroidery. Other topics she has in mind include meal planning, computer classes, fitness, photography and master gardening.
She wants to get the programming up and running as soon as possible. She had been meeting with seniors and the directors of each community center in case the funding was restored.
City’s best volunteers
Seniors Nyburg thinks restoring the funding is good for Akron as well as its seniors. She said seniors are among the city’s best volunteers and hopes this will re-energize them.
“In our heyday, we had hundreds of seniors volunteering for different programs,” she said. “This is a group that cares about Akron and wants to stay involved.”
Some of the seniors, though, were less inclined to volunteer after the city eliminated programming for older adults.
“Some people said, ‘I’m not going to volunteer if they are not going to support us,’ ” said Nancy Shaffer, who is active with the Kenmore Senior Club and whose husband, Ken, heads the club.
Senior clubs active
Though Akron hasn’t been doing senior programming, the city’s 12 senior clubs have remained active in the community centers the past five years.
The Kenmore club has even kept up its exercise class, with seniors guided by exercise videos rather than by the instructor the city previously provided. Between 20 and 30 men and women exercise for about 45 minutes Monday through Thursday, then drink coffee together. A new Zumba class on Tuesday mornings has attracted about six members.
Shaffer, 77, isn’t one of them, though she and her husband have been faithful participants in the morning exercise classes for 13 years. She hopes more seniors, and younger ones, will get involved with the city restarting — and reformatting — its programming.
“I think it’s just good to get the people out and doing stuff instead of sitting home and watching TV,” she said. “We have a good group of people that enjoys getting out. The senior center offers that.”