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Supporters gamble on center's future Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Dec 25 2010 12:00 PM

Some 150 residents, city officials and business owners gambled on Tuesday night to help save Norman Park Senior Center.

The casino-themed fundraiser offered music, tours of the center, food and prizes donated by Chula Vista businesses, pictures with Santa and $200 in gambling chips for roulette, black jack and craps tables.

The center has raised more than $13,000 since Dec. 3, including a $3,000 check written Tuesday night by an anonymous donor, according to Senior Unity Committee co-founder MaryAnne Wurfell.

"What we are becoming aware of is that the city really doesn't have the money," Wurfell said. "So we're looking at alternatives. About three weeks ago we decided we needed to show the city that we can do something on our own."

Norman Park Senior Center serves 2,500 seniors weekly who are 50 years old and older and is the only local center that meets senior needs.

Next year the center will celebrate 50 years as the city's only senior facility.

The Senior Unity Committee was formed in October under the umbrella of the Norman Park Educational Foundation and has around 55 "working core group" members.

Mayor Cheryl Cox said saving the center is a matter of people learning how to become a solution.

"For those who have an ability to contribute a little more, offer a dollar, not a signature," Cox said. Cox said she and husband, San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox attended the event to support and encourage the members.

Committee co-chair Kay Bodge has taught fitness classes at the center for several years. Currently, Bodge teaches eight classes a day including yoga, strength and circuit training.

Bodge said seniors face significant fees increases in February, which many cannot afford.

"You can judge a city by the way they treat their seniors," Bodge said. "I think the city needs to put in their share-it's a moral obligation."

Cox said the city is doing their part by participating in comprehensive pension reform.

"They're going to have to market like the nature center had to market," she said.

The senior center's current revenues and expenditures budget for the 2011 fiscal year shows that it will cost $62,404 to run the center part-time, Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to noon. Among some of highest costs are utilities, which are projected at more than $48,000 annually.

Frank Carson has been the center's supervisor since August and spends 20 hours at the center each week. "I really enjoy being here," he said. "It constantly reminds me of why I'm in parks and recreation."

Chula Vista Recreation Director Buck Martin is one of several city officials who have been working to keep the center open for the last several months. "Overall, it's our only major senior center services facility," he said. "There are limited resources available so we have to do what we can so they have a place to go."

Concepcion VanOrden, 66, has used the exercise program at Norman Park for three years. "I'm here to support keeping the center open," she said. "I hope they don't close it-I'll cry if they close it."

Wurfell said she is overwhelmed by the support. "It makes us feel like this really is Christmas when people say, 'I really believe in what you're doing.'"

City Manager Jim Sandoval recently told committee members that the center will remain open until Jan. 31, running programs during the week from 8 a.m. to noon. Beginning Feb. 1 the center will close Fridays.

"The users of this facility are very passionate and experienced with how to communicate with the media, city officials and administrators," Carson said. "They've expressed the importance of keeping the center open."

Other programs facing significant cuts include Parkway Community, Loma Verde, Otay and Salk Creek recreation centers.

"What's most fortunate about the unity group is the initiative they took to control their destiny," Martin said. "We're going to make this work."

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