Dozens of Clayton residents who rallied for a larger senior still don’t if their campaign will bear fruit.
Last fall, 37 residents wrote Clayton leaders asking for help in building a new senior center where older adults could socialize, exercise and surf the Web. The existing 1,600-square-foot Clayton Center for Active Aging is too small for the average 80 people who come every day, they said.
The nonprofit that runs the center, Community and Senior Services of Johnston County, has also asked the town for support and points to recent agreements with other Johnston towns as an example of what could happen in Clayton.
Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod said the town has many programs for seniors and needs to do a better job of advertising them in the community. He wants to see a new senior center but says it will have to be a joint venture.
“Everybody agrees it’s nice to have,” McLeod said. “But right now, even though the economy is making a nice turn, everybody is looking at recovery.”
Town, CSS already share
The Clayton Center for Active Aging relies mostly on federal dollars funneled through the state and Johnston County. Community and Senior Services of Johnston County, or CSS, runs the senior center, which adjoins an apartment complex on Dairy Road.
The space is technically too small to be eligible for funding but was grandfathered into the federal grant program, said Neal Davis, executive director of CSS.
The Clayton center recently applied for and received a “center for excellence” designation through the state’s Division of Aging and Adult Services. The designation, which qualifies the center for additional funding, also means the center meets specific standards for staffing, outreach and access to services, programs and activities, among other indicators.
“By virtue of the fact that we have achieved that status means in itself that you are attracting a good population,” Davis said. “We have outgrown ourselves.”
To deal with that growth, the center uses auxiliary spaces, most of them owned and operated by the Town of Clayton. The center has programs at Clayton Community Park and the Clayton Community Center on Amelia Church Road and at Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library downtown.
But CSS wants a consolidated space where seniors can meet for all activities. Selena Royal, director of the Clayton senior center, said she can’t fill frequent requests for quilting and ceramics.
“I don’t have anywhere to put a quilt rack,” Royal said. “I don’t have anywhere I can put easels or canvases or a computer lab.”
CSS negotiated with the Town of Selma to open a new 7,000-square-foot senior center in an old school building the town owns. Selma used a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to pay for most of the renovations to a former Harrison School building, with the rest of the money coming from smaller grants and donations from the community.
The center opened in June, and CSS pays to operate the space while the town covers maintenance costs.
Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver said the building sat unused for years.
“For the most part, it was boarded up,” she said, adding that Neuse Charter School did use a portion of the campus before moving to Smithfield.
A Head Start group has since moved onto the Harrison campus, which includes a gym for public use. A town committee picked CSS over several other groups that applied to occupy the unused building on the campus, Oliver said.
“They were an excellent fit because it really rounded out the campus,” she said.
The Harrison Active Aging Center includes a reading room with an attached computer lab, arts and crafts space, two exercise rooms, a kitchen-dining room area and multipurpose space.
The Town of Benson is in the early stages of developing a new senior center through a similar partnership with CSS. Town Manager Matthew Zapp said the town is considering moving several department offices to a former school. That move would open up space for an expanded senior center, he said.
The current Benson senior center is used mostly for meals.
“We know there’s a need in Benson,” Zapp said. “The (dining center) only serves a small component of what we consider an active adult.”
McLeod, Clayton’s mayor, said the town has needs in many areas, including senior services. Comparing projects in Selma and Benson to possible projects in Clayton is not “apples to apples,” he said.
“They don’t have as much going on in many areas like we do,” McLeod said. “We have a lot of demand for services, and their demand is less.”