The last birthday party at Lemington Community Services doubled Friday as a farewell of singing, prayers and anecdotes about the nonprofit, which will end its run June 30.
The center has rented the basement of the Cornerstone Baptist Church on Lincoln Avenue for almost 10 years. It is a remnant of the Lemington Home for the Aged, an institution that, under different names, served residents of the city‘s northeastern-most neighborhood from 1883 until it declared bankruptcy in 2005.
“It is my belief that we suffered the negativity of the bankruptcy” even without ties to its status, said executive director Grace Dixon-Kizzie during the party for June birthdays. “We have been solvent, but people just haven‘t wanted to fund us.”
The organization lost United Way funding in 2010 and has struggled to make up for that. Its needs are greater than the annual support it gets from the Area Agency on Aging, a Department of Human Services program. The state agency provided $113,000 for fiscal 2013-14, said Mildred Morrison, administrator of the Area Agency on Aging.
Ms. Dixon-Kizzie said Lemington needed another $105,000 to serve from 50 to as many as 120 people.
State funding has paid for staff, rent and activities such as wellness programs, computer literacy classes, art classes, swimming outings, cultural events, Pirates games and other entertainment. The state agency delivers lunch, too.
Linda Glover travels from her North Side home to be at the Lemington center, she said, “because the ladies here who are older than me inspire me with their good grooming, refinement and elegance. I will miss this place dearly, but God is in control of all things and He has not made mistakes.”
“Closing is going to be a big loss for most of our folks, who can walk here,” Ms. Dixon-Kizzie said. “Those who weren‘t connected to Access are connected now” to get rides to other senior centers.
State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, said Lemington had a funding disadvantage not being part of the Citiparks senior center network.
“It would have been lovely for Citiparks to have picked it up,” he said, acknowledging the city’s own funding challenges. ”We have to find ways to fund institutions such as this. Close the Delaware loophole so more corporations pay taxes, put a tax on drilling [for natural gas] -- not to make companies leave but not to be the only state that doesn‘t. We need to do something.”
Mr. Gainey said he visits senior centers “to inform people of what’s going on on the state and federal level and to get feedback, such as when [Gov. Tom] Corbett was talking about privatizing the lottery.” Proceeds from the state lottery pay for services to elders.
“To lose this is to lose an anchor in our community,” especially with Lemington‘s dearth of resources, he said.
Over the years, large swaths of vacant land have reverted to woods. On Thursday, while standing outside talking about the struggle to keep the center open, Ms. Dixon-Kizzie watched a deer casually cross Lincoln Avenue at the light as cars waited and said, “That’s not at all unusual.”
”Nobody has fought harder to keep this place open than Grace,“ Mr. Gainey told the crowd, addressing her as she wiped at tears. ”This place is closing and that‘s a loss, but the love that you gave remains open.“
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.