TEMERITY AND TENACITY: THE EARLY DAYS OF JAMESTOWN AREA ADULT DAY SERVICES.
Two words define the small group of hardy individuals who wanted to pursue Adult Day Care as a service for caregivers in the Chautauqua County community. They are temerity and tenacity. The former the dictionary defines as “unreasonable of foolhardy contempt of danger to opposition; rashness, recklessness.” The second, according to that same authority, denotes “stubbornness or persistence in adhering to something valued as an ideal or course of action.”
The little group, who first met as a task force on July 1, 1981, had those qualities in abundance, and little else. The purpose of that meeting was set forth as follows: preliminary consideration of the possibility of establishing an Adult Day Care Center. It could be said that, at that point, their chief asset was a total ignorance of what they were getting into, plus token support from three local churches, a supply of time and energy to invest, and the conviction that a needed and potentially useful service might be provided for the community.
Several related events had preceded this meeting. Earlier in the year, the Rev. Roger Frances, then pastor of the First Baptist Church, had attended a conference of church leaders. Mrs. Francis found herself one morning with time on her hands and by chance Decided to drop in at a workshop planned to consider means of a day care for the frail elderly. She reported to her husband, “I think this is something that the church might consider getting involved with.”
Upon their return to Jamestown, Mr. Frances turned the matter over to his assistant, the Rev. Gary Harris. He in turn consulted Dr. Mary Agnes Burchard, a returned missionary physician, known for her concern for persons with special needs. They contacted Sven Hammar, then Executive Director of the Office for the Aging, an arm of Chautauqua Opportunities, with and office in Mayville. He confirmed the need for such a facility in the area, expressed interest in the establishment of a center for day care of the frail elderly, and assured them of his support and assistance within the limits of his responsibilities.
Gary Harris publicized the idea among the congregations of the three churches referred to above: the First Baptist, the First United Methodist, and the First Congregational United Church of Christ; and asked for indications of interest and willingness to become involved.
It was at this point that the present writer became involved. My husband, the late Rolland H. Taft, had become interested in problems and programs for the elderly as one of the first executive directors of the Office for the Aging, and had a part in the development of the Senior Citizens Center on Fourth Street, and in the Meals on Wheels program. In the meantime, his death had occurred, and I saw involvement in the day care program as a way to carry on his work in the community. I was named temporary chairman of the task force and assumed the responsibility of pursuing means of moving the project forward.
In the ensuring months, bi-weekly meetings of the Task Force were held with special sessions as the need developed. Dozens of letters were written to local persons, and to representatives of county, state and federal governments. All available means of informing the public regarding the project were pursued, and the help of many persons was solicited. Some of these met with us on one occasion to share special insights, others served as members of the task force, many shared their expertise in as many areas, and others encouraged us by their show of interest. It would be impossible to name all these, but their contributions were highly valued and are gratefully acknowledged.
Two must be given special mention, for without them, it is doubtful whether we should have survived. Sven Hammar was generous with his knowledge and experience, and with tangible support made possible by his position in the county. He never was too busy to talk with us and meet with us, and he saved us from many errors and made our flounderings less painful.
Patricia Smith, then Human Resources Planner for United Way, helped us enormously when it came to organization and seeking sources of funding. She knew her way around and had contacts which helped us to approach local foundations with requests for financial assistance. Her office provided many hours of typing service, and she was always available for advice and counsel. With all our good will, we would have been at a loss without the aid of these two professionals who helped to keep us on track.
Early on, we realized that, if we were to be taken seriously, we must set down in black and white certain factors. For example: some proof of the need for the type of facility we were proposing; a general description of the facility; a definition of the clientele we we hope to serve; and a general idea of the program we would offer with such details as hours of service, cost to the client, nature of activities, and type of leadership provided. Our first tentative proposal was revised and rewritten and re-rewrittten a number of times over the next several months. Eventually, with advice from knowledgeable persons, we felt we had a concise statement of what we proposed.
The selection of a site was of some concern. Size, location, accessibility, safety and convenience factors had to be considered. We investigated the limited number of options, and soon discovered that we were in a chicken – egg situation. In order to be taken seriously by owners of properties, we needed to have some assurance of funding. Possible sources of funding invariably asked, “Where will you be located?” The next few months were marked by many frustrations as we tried to convince often skeptical persons of the seriousness of our purpose and the viability of our undertaking.
Though at this point we hardly dared think of costs, we prepared job descriptions for the three professionals we were sure we would need. We also made up a tentative budget for the first year of operation, which was laughable as the minutes of our meeting reported a treasury balance from zero to the comparative riches of $100.00 provided by church and individual contributions.
It must be remembered that, at this time, the idea of adult day care was in its infancy. A recent article in Newsweek (July 2, 1990 “A Home Away from Home”) states, “The number of centers has grown from a handful in the early 1970s to more than 2,100 today.” We definitely were in the handful period.
In order to learn as much as possible from existing centers, we wrote to any whose addresses were available. We read anything we could find in print. Several of the task force visited a center in Lockport. I went to two in Pittsburgh, and the Linwood Center in Olean welcomed us. This latter became both an inspiration and a prototype for us. Margaret Worden and Kathleen Horner, Director of the Center and Executive Director of the Cattaraugus County Office for the Aging respectively, gave us valuable assistance at many points.
Almost from the beginning, we had regarded the area in the First United Methodist Church as well suited to our needs. It was adequate in size and accessible by two entrances from a spacious parking lot. Toilet facilities were readily accessible, as were a kitchen and a large meeting area. The church had indicated an interest in the prefect from the start and was represented on the task force by the pastor and several members of the congregation. Accordingly, we approached the official boards of the church with a request that they consider the Center as possible tenant.
We soon found that we were in for some hard bargaining. First of all, we had to convince the church that the Center’s aims were such that it would be in keeping with what might be considered an appropriate use of the property. We wanted them to feel that they could consider their relationship with us as part of the wider mission of the church. They needed assurance that the presence of the Center would not devalue the property in any way, that any necessary adaptations would not damage or disfigure their building, or detract from its usefulness for its primary purpose of housing a religious
Organization with an active program of worship, education and other activities.
At this point, the services of Michael Flaxman, then employed by the Chautauqua Home Rehabilitation and Improvement Corporation, proved invaluable to us. His agency was an arm of the Office for the Aging, and he was both knowledgeable and experienced in providing for the needs of the handicapped elderly. His presentation to the Administrative Board was highly professional and proved to be convincing. No major structural changes would be required. Adaptations of toilet facilities would be minor.
The installation of handrails in the corridor and the replacement of a sub-standard wheelchair ramp would actually enhance the value of the property by bringing it up to current standards of accessibility for the handicapped. Cost of materials would by borne by the Center, and of labor by the Office for the Aging. Thus one hurdle was cleared.
After some negotiation a rental figure was arrived at which would cover the church’s costs of utilities, maintenance, and wear and tear, at the same time falling within anticipated income.
Consultation with leaders of groups which currently used the area resulted in agreement that sharing would be possible, since the Center would use the area Monday – Friday, 9:00 a. m. – 5:00 p. m. and thus would not interfere with church use which would be mainly on Sundays and evenings.
At our request, the fire department sent a representative to inspect the premises for safety. Since the church already was certified as a place of public assemblage, there was no problem in that direction. The Board of Health when contacted replied that, since no meals would be prepared on the site, they saw no problem.
Meantime, the search went on for sources of funding. We knew from the start that, in all probability, the Center could never be self-supporting, as we were determined that its services would be available to those in need, even to those with limited resources. We were realistic enough to acknowledge that contributions from clubs, groups, and individuals, while most welcome, would never by adequate to carry the program. Churches, too, while sympathetic, do not have funds to be diverted to a project in any significant amount. We had hit upon a period when government funds, county, state, and national were at low ebb. Bills were pending in the legislature and some federal programs offered some possibility, but little at that point in time. Thanks, again, to Sven Hammar, we were assured of in-kind support for the Office for the Aging – transportation, nutritional services, furniture to which they happened to have access, even a discarded typewriter which constituted our office equipment.
All these, while most helpful, did not add up to the necessary cash. So we started knocking at the doors of local foundations. These proved to be lifesavers. We had, however, to convince them of the need of and the potential value to the community of the Center, of the viability of our proposal, and of progress toward an actual opening. Again, thanks are due our good friend Patricia Smith, who had contacts with persons responsible for selecting grantees, and helped us to get our requests into intelligible and acceptable form. Eventually the Gebbie Foundation, the Clarke Foundation, and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation gave us the first “real” money we had received, enough to make us feel that we could proceed to employ staff and plan for an opening.
A decision had to be made as to the type of agency we should be from a legal and business point of view. Because of the interest and token support of the three churches aforementioned, we first considered seeking a church that would sponsor the Center as a part of its program. We soon decided that such sponsorship would not be desirable, as it would limit our usefulness, at least in the public view. We next considered the possibility of operating under the umbrella of an existing charitable or semi-charitable organization. Contacts were made with officials of the WCA Hospital, the Jamestown General Hospital, Lutheran Social Services, and the Hall Home. Each indicated interest, but none could see how an arrangement could be worked out that would be mutually satisfactory. Accordingly, it appeared that it would be best to incorporate as an independent agency
Attorney James Abdella of the First United Methodist Church set the wheels in motion that led eventually to our incorporation as a not-for-profit agency with tax-free status. Later, Robert Alessi became a member of the task force, and was generous with advice and counsel almost from the start. So, at last, in the minutes of the meeting of July 14, 1982, it is stated that “Fran was pleased to say that the Jamestown Area Adult Day Care Center is now a corporation.” The Task Force was duly elected as the Board of Directors of the new corporation with Fran Taft named as its Chairman.
As part of our campaign to secure housing and support, we carried on a vigorous effort to inform the progress; community agencies that might be interested from any point of view were contacted. I spoke before any group that could be persuaded to listen to me.
In good time, these talks came to be illustrated with slides taken at the Linwood Center. The assistance of Gary Harris and Robert Whitehead as photographers must be noted. As things began to fall into place, a brochure was prepared and copies placed in strategic areas – hospital waiting rooms and doctors’ offices, for example.
As soon as minimum funding was in sight, we began the search for staff persons. Our job descriptions had been written, and we had decided upon the training and experience we would need from staff members. The position of Executive Director was advertised. Several candidates were interviewed.
Even before we had begun serious work on the project, Svan Hammar had received a letter from Martha Paulson indication her concern that a center such as ours be established in Jamestown and her wish to be considered as a candidate for the position of Executive Director when and if the Center became a reality. After reviewing her qualifications, we felt that none of the other candidates equaled her in educational background, experience, commitment to the project, and above all in personality. The experience of the next years bore out our original impressions as she took the job in hand, directed the functioning of the Center, recruited clients and sought other sources of funding. It is difficult to imagine how the Center could have succeeded and continued to its present state without her dedicated work in those early days.
The position of Activities Director attracted several candidates. After careful consideration in consultation with Martha, it was decided that Judy Knowlton was the person we needed. Her experience, enthusiasm, and dedication to the purpose were outstanding.
In Christine Conti we found the ideal Secretary\Bookkeeper. In addition to outstanding secretarial and bookkeeping skills, she brought a concern for the clients and willingness to be involved in the program at any point where her help was needed. We felt that we had the ideal staff and nothing since has caused me to revise that early estimate. These three made the Center. I should mention that each agreed to accept a minimum salary, and that they proved to be mutually congenial.
Meantime, the Center had been furnished with contributions of tables and chairs by the Office for the Aging, desks by Alessi, sofas and upholstered chairs by local furniture dealers as gifts, or at cost, or at a substantial discount.
We had set a tentative opening date for the fall of 1982. This proved to be unrealistic, and the big day came on December 7, 1982. The growth was painfully slow at first. Adult day care was an idea whose time had come, but people were not yet widely aware of that. The years have brought steady development. The attendance of clients at the Jamestown Center has grown from 1-3 to the capacity of 25 plus, the program has been expanded, and the staff, both professional and volunteer, has increased.
There have been changes in the Board of Directors. My resignation as President of the Board was presented on January 29, 1986. I felt that a better informed and more aggressive type of leadership that I could provide was needed at the time. I continued as a member of the Board until June 1987, when personal reasons made my retirement seem advisable. Nancy Elofson, who has continued to give highly capable and dedicated leadership to the present time, succeeded Robert Alessi who succeeded me as President in turn.
I must mention several persons who have been on the scene from the beginning and have continued to contribute to the operation of the Agency to the present time. From the very beginning, Dr. Mary Agnes Burchard worked with Gary Harris in making contacts and securing preliminary information. She became the first treasurer from the time when we felt rich when we received a contribution of $100.00, which she generously advanced.
Her retirement occurred only recently after a bout of illness.
Robert Alessi became a member of the Task Force in 1982, and has continued to serve, first as secretary, later as President of the Board, and currently as a member. He has acted as the Agency’s advocate at more times and places and in more ways than could possibly be counted.
Nancy Elofson was a member of the Task Force and assumed the Presidency in January 1987. Much of the later development of the Agency to its present status has been due to her capable and dedicated leadership.
Homer Stennett became a member of the Task Force in September 1981, and has continued to serve as a valuable liaison person in contacts with the First Methodist Church. Mary Zaydel provided a valued service as a member of the Board, while spending many hours as a volunteer member of the staff.
The value of the contributions of Judy Knowlton and Christine Conti cannot be assessed. In particular, they served to maintain the stability of the Agency during Martha’s maternity leave and during the time she was able to give only part-time leadership.
After the birth of her daughter, Martha found her home responsibilities in conflict with her duties at the Agency. Karen Zilhaver, who in cooperation with the Board has had a part in the creation of a satellite Center in Dunkirk, and has been in part responsible for placing the Agency on a fairly stable financial basis, replaced her. Karen’s resignation, for family considerations, effective July 20, 1990, must be noted with regret.
Countless others have given of themselves in the operation and growth of the Agency. They must be nameless, but their contributions have helped to make the Agency truly a community project.
It is impossible to convey in words the amount of work, the agonizingly slow progress, the sometimes-humiliating necessity of always begging for a support. If I had possessed a hat, I am sure that my hat-in-hand approach to so many people and groups would have caused me to forget that it ever was intended to be worn on the head.
As I view the facility, I feel that the temerity and tenacity of those few hardy souls who undertook to make a dream a reality were well justified. I am sure many elderly persons, and those responsible for their care, would agree, if it were possible for them to speak. May the coming years prove to be useful and rewarding ones for all associated with the Agency.
Founder of the Chautauqua Adult Day Services