GENTRY -- It was announced to the city council on Sept. 8 by Mayor Kevin Johnston that the Gentry Senior Activity Center, which was operated by Our Healthy Communities and has been closed since March due to covid-19 concerns, will not reopen as a senior activity center but will become a community center operated under the auspices of the Gentry Public Library to provide services to seniors and to the entire Gentry community.
The decision was made by Our Healthy Communities during the coronavirus closure not to reopen the facility but to provide its services to the Gentry community through its facilities in Siloam Springs and Gravette, according to Susan Moore, director of Our Healthy Communities (formerly Office of Human Concern).
OHC is a nonprofit, community action agency serving Northwest Arkansas in Benton, Carroll and Madison Counties that provides meals, transportation, socialization, and home-delivered meals to the senior and disabled population. According to OHC, these services help keep senior citizens active and eating nutritious food, which will hopefully keep them in their homes longer and delay the need for institutional care.
According to Moore, the senior activity center opened in Gentry about 2008 and OHC has tried everything it could to make the Gentry center a success but the number of clients just wasn't sufficient to keep the center open. Jackie Bader then managed the center in Gentry and worked to involve more local senior citizens, ages 60 and above. Maxine Foster has served as director of the center for the past few years.
"The city has been great to work with," Moore said, "and the Gentry United Way helped us much," but after all the centers were closed due to the covid-19 pandemic, the difficult decision was made not to reopen the Gentry Senior Activity Center.
Moore pointed out that Meals on Wheels, which has been provided through the Siloam Springs facility because of the lack of a kitchen meeting state guidelines to prepare foods in Gentry, will continue to be provided in Gentry via its Siloam Springs facility. She said transportation services for seniors would continue to be available in Gentry, too, through the Siloam Springs and Gravette senior centers.
Moore expressed her hope that many activities formerly available to seniors at the center would still be made available to them through the city's plan to convert the facility into a community center with activities for seniors and people of all ages.
Johnston told the council that Linda Crume, Gentry's librarian, has plans to use the facility to provide activities and services to seniors and the entire community.
Crume told the "Eagle Observer" of plans to use the new facility for such things as weekly or biweekly senior craft programs, to host speaker series on such senior topics as health and finance, to host music programs, and to offer exercise classes for seniors.
Some other suggested uses include being another meeting venue for organizations such as 4-H and County Extension services; to host art classes and displays; to host speaking events, music classes and presentations, movies and films; and to house library exhibits and displays.
"The easily washable floor there will open craft opportunities for adults and kids that weren't practical on the McKee Room's carpeted floor. Even though the kitchen isn't commercial, we can use the oven for various crafts. In 2019, 1600-plus children and 600-plus adults participated in our library programming. This should help us expand those numbers in the future," Crume said.
Crume suggested adding a door on the west side of the building to connect it to the library through the pocket park between the two structures.
Johnston told the council that the city had applied for a grant through AEP/SWEPCO in the amount of $25,000 that it hopes to use to replace the roof on the structure, add paving to the parking area and make other needed repairs.
In addition to council members thanking Maxine Foster for her hard work in operating the center and providing services to area senior citizens over the past several years, councilwoman Janice Arnold commended Linda Crume on her plans to continue serving seniors and expanding services to the entire community as a community center.
"Get ready, hold on to your hats," Arnold said to the council, adding that she has heard of great things to come for the new Gentry Community Center.