Center nears $2 million campaign goal

By Tammy Keith Published October 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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— The Faulkner County Senior Citizens Program is $200,000 away from making it happen.

The goal of the Make It Happen campaign is $2 million to pay off the debit on a bigger facility purchased for the Conway Senior Wellness and Activity Center.

The Faulkner County Council on Aging Board of Directors signed a $1.95 million contract in February to buy the Agora Conference and Special Events Center on Siebenmorgen Road in Conway.

“We’re close,” said Lori Case Melton, co-chairwoman of the campaign. “We’re really pushing over the next three weeks to make personal phone calls.”

A one-night radio phonathon Oct. 1 raised $125,000. A promotion among four Conway car dealers to give $50 for each new car sold raised $120,000. A $50,000 grant from the Department of Human Services presented to the center by state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, can be used only for renovations, Case said.

“There are two pots of money we’re raising,” she said, “renovation costs and to pay debt off on the existing building.”

She said the goal for renovation is $400,000 that’s “mandatory,” which mostly involves upgrading the catering kitchen.

“We’re $60,000 short on the remodeling,” Melton said. “The kitchen itself is almost $400,000 because they serve 131,000 meals [a year] out there. They have to have a major industrial kitchen, walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer.”

The program has outgrown its present location at 1620 Donaghey Ave., a former church that has been added onto, she said.

The Agora location will almost double the space the program has now, from 9,446 square feet to about 18,750. The number of parking spaces will go from 60 to 200 at Agora.

The former church, bought in 1980, served 200 adults then; now it serves 2,000 [annually], Case said.

“Most of those are served on a weekly basis — every senior uses it in a different way,” she said.

Executive director Debra Robinson said many activities are held for seniors, from line dancing to beanbag baseball, all in the same room.

Robinson also said in an earlier interview with the River Valley & Ozark Edition that she wants to expand the center’s programs.

“We want to offer more as far as health and wellness,” she said.

Robinson pointed to the “explosive growth” in the senior population. She said Conway’s population, which is about 60,000, is projected to be 100,000 by 2023. Of those, it’s projected that 25,000 will be seniors, Robinson said.

The appraisal on the center’s current building is $630,000, Case said, “but we would be willing to sell it for $450,000 to $500,000. It would be perfect for a church because it used to be a church. Several nonprofits have looked at it for office space. It’s a great piece of property; it’s just too small.

“If we could sell that — we’d be [at our goal]. We’re sure hoping it sells soon,” she said.

Grants have been received, but Case said the grants must be used for improvements and programming and not toward the debt.

Case said she is excited about two fundraisers planned for the spring.

An art tour of homes is being planned, which is a tour of homes filled with Conway artist Steve Griffith’s work.

Also, Case said, a Senior Hall of Fame is being started and will be kicked off with a banquet in April or early May, when the center opens.

“We’re developing criteria and all that over the next couple of months,” she said. “It will be an [annual] banquet, and there will be a wall of honor. The community will have an opportunity to nominate folks.”

She said a banquet can’t be held until the kitchen is renovated, and because of the grants, that work can’t start until January.

Case said the fundraising committee has a list of individuals to call for donations.

“We are trying to be out of the game Nov. 5, before the holidays kick in,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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