COPPERAS COVE — The sudden closure of the Copperas Cove seniors’ center has left the town’s seniors scrambling as they try to figure out where to meet. The elderly were greeted on March 8 to announce that the center was to close until further notice and they were not allowed to enter.
On Friday, to maintain a sense of normalcy, a group of 31 seniors gathered for a barbecue at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8577 in Copperas Cove.
Herb Wright, a former VFW station commander, said Wednesday he would bring a motion to members at Monday’s membership meeting to do something to help the elderly. Members of the post will have to approve any form of support.
Several elderly people told the Herald this week that the closure had a negative effect on them, including Christie Duff and Marie Hull, both widows.
Duff said the closure, even though it’s only been two weeks, is affecting her mental health as it did when the center was closed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic when her depression spiked.
“That’s what’s happening now,” she said of the growing depression. “I can already see that I need to increase my depression meds.”
Duff said she wouldn’t describe the closure as “devastating,” but she said it was “more than an inconvenience.”
Hull, who is 80, said she felt she was in her “golden years” and didn’t mince words when she grappled with the reality of her age.
“I don’t know how many years I have left, and I may not have that many years left,” she said. “And I miss the center and all my friends because it felt like home away from home.”
Hull has also offered his one-bedroom apartment as a meeting place twice a week from this week. With the size of her apartment, however, she can only accommodate eight at a time, so they discussed signing up in “teams” to congregate there.
Why the closure?
According to the city, the senior center was closed due to “unforeseen circumstances and a lack of staff”. To clarify this, Jeff Stoddard, the director of the city’s parks and recreation department, which oversees the senior center, said Jeri Wood, the city’s community outreach specialist, is no longer employed by the city.
Stoddard could not comment further on Wood’s departure, but seniors close to Wood told the Herald that she had been “released from her position.” Wood could not be reached for further comment.
Many seniors who spoke with the Herald, including David Moore, said the senior center was like family. Moore recently moved to Copperas Cove from the Austin area. Moore explained that his wife was blind and that at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when social distancing was expected, he said that in his experience society had ‘rejected’ blind people from social settings .
That’s not the case at Copperas Cove Senior Activity Center, however.
“The center was much more accommodating; it was a safer place where I could take her with me,” Moore said Thursday. “And then the other people that were there were always tending to his needs when I wasn’t readily available.”
To make friends
Moore also said the center allowed her to relax.
“I can sit there and be myself and do a few things without having to sit there constantly worrying about what I need to do to take care of my wife,” he said. “So it gave me a chance to relax without having to constantly worry about her needs. And that’s one of the things I need as a caregiver/husband.
Duff said she began attending the senior center after moving to the Copperas Cove area following the death of her husband five years ago.
“I was home alone for a year, and then someone mentioned the senior center, and I started going there and making friends,” Duff said.
Hull said she also started attending the senior center after her husband passed away a few years ago.
“It was really the place where I could find peace of mind away from home because it’s a very lonely life,” she said.
For Duff, however, the impact of the closure is also tangible, given that the center provided a meal for seniors every Tuesday and Friday.
“Some of us who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to cook for ourselves, that’s where we ate our meals,” Duff said.
Moore said Thursday that the sudden shutdown without warning felt like “a kick in the teeth.” He also said he felt the elderly were “thrown away”.
Hull and Duff also said last week they felt the seniors were “blindsided” by the news.
For Moore, the closure of the senior center left him with questions such as why there was no backup plan and how city officials would feel if their parents were in the same situation.
When asked why the city couldn’t place someone on an interim basis to run the senior center, Stoddard said via email Wednesday, “While it is sometimes possible to fill positions within the city along with other staff, the parks and recreation department is currently under heavy strain and after reviewing the situation I have made the difficult decision to temporarily close the facility until a new specialist community outreach can be hired.
Hull also wondered aloud on Tuesday why a volunteer couldn’t run the centre.
“The Senior Activity Center is a one-person operation, and as such the recent vacancy has required us to temporarily close the center until the vacancy can be filled. We could not allow the center to be run by a volunteer for liability reasons,” Stoddard said.
The city posted the vacancy on its website Wednesday. Full-time employment pays $12.09 per hour and is open to anyone with at least a high school diploma and six months of experience.