St. Petersburg’s Office on Aging and the Sunshine Center are working hard on achieving a monumental task: to show the Sunshine Center deserves recognition as a national model of senior center excellence.
Their goal, with the help of more than two dozen people selected from the community, is to complete an extensive application to the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) to earn national senior center accreditation for another five years.
Why is this so important? After all, it is an optional designation.
A senior center can work to achieve this honor, but it is not mandated by any agency. And, the Sunshine Center has already earned this distinction twice before.
In fact, it was the first senior center in Florida to do so.
Jay Morgan, manager of the St. Petersburg Office On Aging and vice chair of the NISC, which administers the Senior Center Accreditation program, says, “Earning accreditation makes a senior center more visible, viable and valued. It makes a senior center much more successful. In the case of the Sunshine Center, between the first and second accreditations the center’s attendance increased by 75 percent and revenue was up 125 percent.”
These results, Morgan says, were directly tied to the accreditation process the Sunshine Center went through in which it was forced to examine its present state and come up with innovative initiatives for future growth.
This self-examination led to instituting new programs to meet the changing demands of the senior population and a modest, but fee-based structure for many of programs to generate revenue rather than providing nearly all programs and services for free.
As mentioned, city officials and staff of the Office on Aging and Sunshine Center will not be taking on this task alone. Sally Marvin, supervisor of the Sunshine Center, has put together a 25-member “Community Committee” to assist in the self-assessment of the center.
“I tried to choose a variety of people who are leaders in our community, who participate in the center’s activities, and who have been through previous accreditations. It is important that this be a working committee.
"I know most of the members personally and have experienced first hand and admire their passion for improving the quality of life for our St. Petersburg seniors.” Marvin added, “I feel very confident that this committee will fully engage themselves and their individual resources in getting this task accomplished.”
And quite a task it is. In all, there are nine “senior center excellence standards” that the National Institute of Seniors Centers asks candidate senior centers to address in applying for accreditation. These include: Purpose, Community, Governance, Administration & Human Resources, Program Planning, Evaluation, Fiscal Management, Records & Reports, and Facility.
Where exactly does the “Community Committee fit in? “The committee will be doing the actual work that goes into the books for the application,” Marvin noted. “They will provide input and help set mission statements, goals and objectives and action plans. They will research required material and organize their individual segments as required by the process guidelines.
"At our first meeting, we had very positive input. Members readily agreed to take on specific tasks and immediately set-up chairs for subcommittees and follow-up meetings. We will need to keep that enthusiasm going which is a challenge I’m sure the committee will meet.”
Morgan said, as a NISC peer reviewer for the accreditation program having visited various senior centers around the country applying for this designation and looking at their documentation, one of the most important elements in the application is to “have a vision, at least five years out of what your senior center will look like.” He said for the local Sunshine Center that means hopefully, if the money can be found, to physically expand the center, building out and up, with a two-story addition.
“We’ve got 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day. About six percent of those are or will be here in Florida. We need a bigger center to accommodate this growth.”
Both city officials also see a real need to expand the popular Senior Center’s café. Morgan said the dining area needs to be larger, while Marvin says she would like to see “a fully-equipped kitchen" for the café.
"This area has proven to be a focal point of the Center. People gather here in the morning and talk about what they will do that day, then return to lunch and talk about what their day has been like. It’s become a great ‘ice breaker’ for conversation.”
She said she would also like “to add a city-paid custodian to the staff, as now we are using temporary AARP Work Search participants to fulfill the immense job of keeping clean four separate sets of public restrooms and public areas” in over 65,000 square feet senior center structure.
Regardless of these desired goals and input from the committee that will be presented in the accreditation application, Marvin, who is going through this process for the first time, agrees with Morgan, that earning this national accreditation for a third time is of utmost importance. As Marvin put it, “(Another) accreditation will show others not only in our community, but nationwide, that we are a city committed to continuing to honor our seniors, providing them with dignity and a purpose in later years.”
For more information on the Sunshine Center including its various programs and services, visit: http://www.sunshinecenterfriends.org.