Scappoose Community and Senior Center gradually reopening
Nearly a year after an Oregon Department of Justice audit found significant issues with management of the Scappoose Community and Senior Center, the board of directors and other volunteers are gradually getting the center back in shape.
The majority of the current board members, including board president Kay Stuck-Werings, joined after the state audit.
Improvements at the center are "moving forward, but slowly," Stuck-Werings said.
The center's finances were a major issue identified in the state audit.
"Accounting is still an ongoing process," Stuck-Wering said. "But the board members are learning the rules, how to follow the bylaws, both state and federal and our own."
The board laid off the center's former director, Julie Stephens, after the audit, citing the pandemic and the center's shaky financial status.
The center has been slowly reopening after being closed due to pandemic restrictions and internal turmoil.
Bingo has restarted on Monday and Friday evenings, with close to 50 people playing on Fridays. On Monday and Thursday mornings, quilters meet in the dedicated quilt room and gardeners meet in the garden outside the center, where they're growing peas, potatoes and other vegetables — both groups eager to welcome new participants. More classes, like photography, ceramics and tai chi, are being added to the schedule, open to both members and non-members.
The center's medical equipment lending program offers crutches, wheelchairs, commodes and other equipment. Use of the program has increased in the past year, as surgeries that were delayed because of COVID-19 are rescheduled.
The Bread Place received more than 1,500 visits in April, according to board member and bread store leader Robert Glosenger.
Franz Bakery, Dave's Killer Bread, Brown Butter Bakery and other businesses donate bread and pastries to the bread store, where customers can pick up goods for free. The bread place also accepts donations.
The thrift store is also open.
The city's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year includes money to pave the pothole-ridden stretch of Dutch Canyon Road that both the thrift store and bread store are located on.
Stuck-Wering, who is at the center every weekday, said operations without any paid staff are going well.
"We still have people reluctant to come back. They want to be sure that things are going smoothly and that it will continue to move forward," she said.
The Scappoose Community and Senior Center changed its name, adding "Community" in 2018, hoping to draw in more members of all ages after membership started to dwindle. But the vast majority of visitors are still seniors.
Center leadership is aiming to partner with the school district to bring in more young Scappoose residents, including students who need community service hours, but visitors under 18 years old are only allowed to visit the center with an adult.
"There isn't an awful lot that we can offer in the way of most community centers in that we don't have a gym. Childcare would not be a real good fit, probably. Number one, we don't have a room to do it in," Stuck-Wering said.
The center has also increased its social media presence to draw in new members — and to show former members that the center is back in action.
"We just haven't had a presence really in that way in our community. And my goal is to really get it out there and let people know, 'here we are and here's our activities,' and to come on down," said the center's new social media lead, Carolyn King.
The center isn't yet fully open. The kitchen, which used to be staffed by a cook who served lunches, is not operational. The center has received a grant to restock the kitchen, but it needs to be cleaned and pass a health inspection first.
Volunteers pick up Meals on Wheels deliveries from the center and drive them to recipients every weekday, but the meals are prepared at the St. Helens Senior Center.
Volunteers have been doing some repairs on the center, but others have required professionals, adding to the high costs of getting center operations back in order.
"A lot of it was just bringing it back to where we could be in here," Stuck-Wering said.
Among examples she gave: The exit lights didn't work, the fire extinguishers were too old, and the fire alarm and HVAC systems needed servicing.
"We still have a few more things to complete there before (the fire marshal) will come back and do another inspection and hopefully give us an OK, because I think they were ready to shut us down," Stuck-Wering added.
Repairs so far, including on a bus that had its catalytic converter stolen early in the pandemic, total around $20,000, Stuck-Wering said. A long list of major repairs has also stacked up. The thrift store roof will be replaced soon, which will cost another $20,000. Then comes the bread store roof for an estimated $15,000, then the siding on the center, which may be upwards of $40,000.
The mostly new board has had to sift through documents to get the center's finances in order, resolving unpaid bills and insufficient documentation of how money had been earned or spent.
Board members and volunteers had to search for passwords for various accounts, find missing vehicle titles, and more.
"In the process of sorting through the many, many baskets and boxes of mixed records, supplies, and yes, garbage, we found many uncashed checks dating back many years. … Actual cash money is also being found," Stuck-Wering wrote in the center's April 2022 newsletter.
"Known past due accounts have been brought current including $30,000.00 in uncashed payroll checks, (for which payroll reports had been filed with the Bureau of Labor, etc.) and resulting legal fees, plus several thousand in monthly payment accounts. These obligations were paid thanks to generous donations from members who believe in the center and want to see it fully open and operating according to the legal requirements," Stuck-Wering added.
The relationship with the city has also improved, Stuck-Wering said.
Stuck-Wering described the pre-pandemic relationship with the city as "contentious," but she declined to elaborate.
Now, Scappoose City Manager Alexandra Rains and Councilor Pete McHugh, who is the designated liaison between the City Council and the center, have been attending the center's board meetings.
"When you have the city manager and one to two council members attending your meeting, that's a pretty good sign. By the same token, (Columbia River) PUD has their representative here each board meeting too," Stuck-Wering said.
Center leadership and the Department of Justice have been in regular contact, and the department says it's satisfied with the progress it has seen so far.
"We look forward to the day when we have reached full compliance with the DOJ and our own bylaws, so that we can get back to a complete reopening of our center," Stuck-Wering wrote in the April newsletter.
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