MENDOCINO Co., 8/4/23 — Ukiah’s Senior Center has served elderly residents of the greater Ukiah area for over fifty years, but the service-heavy nonprofit is in what its new executive director calls “dire financial straits.” The center has launched general appeals on Facebook, Instagram, and NextDoor and a more targeted appeal on GoFundMe.
When David Lieberman took on the job of executive director of the center in April, he knew the nonprofit’s financial situation was difficult. COVID-19, he says, had essentially closed the center, though it continued to provide seniors with lunches to-go rather than in the company of others at Bartlett Hall, the center’s dining hall. Then a fire suppression unit failed at the center’s thrift store, a primary revenue source. The damage from flooding was substantial—to the tune of $80,000 and a seven-month closure. “Insurance covered part of it, but all that potential revenue was lost,” Lieberman says.
Now fully reopened, the Ukiah Senior Center, located at 495 Leslie Street, has been a lifesaver for older adults. It offers services including the Lunch Bunch, a program for seniors suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. The program includes games, reading, lots of talking—and provides a welcome respite for caregivers, who can fall ill themselves from 24/7 overwork and worry. The center also provides door-to-door transportation to the program, held from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on weekdays. The Lunch Bunch was shuttered during the pandemic until it opened up again a year ago, to the relief of many.
The center serves over 4,000 seniors per month, offering paratransit, lunches, educational and recreation programs, activities, dances, and an outreach service that helps seniors find housing, caregivers, and other services. Its hive of activity, Bartlett Hall, has been designated an official cooling station during heat waves. Yet, says Lieberman, “We don’t get a penny from the state or the city,” though the center has several county contracts to provide outreach services.
Funding is mostly through grants, including grants received from the United Methodist Women, the George and Ruth Bradford Foundation, Westamerica Bank, and the Community Foundation of Mendocino County. The lunches cost $7, some activities come with a fee, and the center holds quarterly dances as fundraisers. And then there’s the now reopened thrift store, which brings in, Lieberman estimated, around $400 a day. “It was a huge hit to lose that for seven months,” Lieberman says.
But even when the thrift store is at full throttle finances aren’t easy, and the pandemic and the flooding worsened an already difficult situation: “The center has been losing money for five years at least,” Lieberman says. He has mounted donation campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, NextDoor and a Gofundme drive that asks for funds to restore Bartlett Hall. The social media asks are general appeals for operational costs, while the GoFundMe drive is specific to Bartlett Hall and its immediate needs. Among the high-ticket items that the center needs for the hall are what Lieberman terms “minimal roof repairs” at $16,000, security and fire alarm systems at $35,000, and a generator for power outages, vital for a cooling center, at $40,000. The center hopes to raise $100,000 in the GoFundMe campaign, with $3,400 donated by press time. Lieberman says that he believes the center would not need to close to accommodate the repairs and new systems.
Lieberman, who has lived in the county since 2010 and worked as marketing director for realty companies and property management firms, has now turned his attention to saving a nonprofit that serves as a bulwark to so many. “Our loss this year is significantly smaller, but that came through burning through our cash reserves. I’m actively looking for grants. And we’re trying to partner with Adventist Health Hospital to provide non-emergency medical transport in addition to our Dial-a-Ride program.”
He’s also looking into 5310 grants, a federal effort to enhance the mobility of seniors and people with disabilities. “That would mean a new vehicle and new software control systems,” Lieberman says. “And we’re considering a pre-application for an implementation grant for community resilience centers.”
He is also considering moving up the center’s main annual ask, usually held in November. “We’re thinking of doing it a little earlier,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of competition for funding in November. We’re doing anything we can do to raise funds.”
Contributions to the GoFundMe drive can be made here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-ukiah-senior-center-Bartlett-Hall