Mill Race Center making strong gains

Mill Race Center’s financial picture is improving significantly, reducing last year’s $130,000 budget deficit to about $8,000 with an expectation to balance the budget by 2018 while also adding services.

Those facts came out of Wednesday’s first-ever Mill Race Center annual meeting, which had about 50 people in attendance, including board members, health care professionals, representatives from retirement homes, community leaders and Mayor Jim Lienhoop.

By year’s end, leaders are working toward a goal of raising $420,000 for programming and for the year-old Pitman Institute for Aging Well. About 40 percent of each year’s budget comes from donations.

The agency primarily serves people 50 and older with a nearly $1.1 million budget that funds health and intellectual activities, social outings and many other programs, of which more than 75 are offered for free.

Many of the center’s activities tie into prevention — preventing loneliness or mobility loss, for example — and funding for those types of services are hard to secure, said Dan Mustard, the center’s director of operations.

“Even though the number of seniors is going up and even though the population is changing rapidly, we have not yet as a culture broadly prioritized prevention as a worthy funding source,” Mustard said.

Locally, the 50-and-older population represents 34 percent of the Bartholomew County population and is the fastest-growing age group, according to the 2013 census.

Mustard and Paula Herlitz, the center’s development director, said community support from donations and grants increased more than 30 percent from 2014.

Also contributing to improved finances have been adjusting operating hours, small adjustments in fees for classes and other offerings, revamping accounting procedures, and reviewing all contracts and partnerships, they said. Those types of efforts helped offset some reductions in public funding last year.

Other highlights from 2015:

Membership jumped by 212, or 11 percent, to a current total of 2,100; membership participation increased 20 percent.

A new vehicle has increased the center’s capacity for medical transportation for people with limited mobility.

New programs such as Afternoon for the Arts and Lunch and Laughter have been added.

“We are touching lives at Mill Race center every day and making a difference in those lives and in our community,” said Lynne Hyatt, the center’s board president.

Hyatt also pointed out that the center’s role and the Pitman Institute for Aging Well will increase in importance locally and nationally. She quoted national estimates from the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging that show that by 2050, the age 80-plus population segment will quadruple.

Center leaders said nurturing older populations bring abundant returns for people of all ages locally. They said the payback comes in the form of seniors’ community involvement and leadership, volunteerism, work skills and other contributions.

Mill Race Center by the the numbers for 2015

6: Different dimensions of aging well that are the key focuses for all center activities

29: Percentage of revenue coming from programs

52: Percentage of budget expense from programs

60: Years for the Mill Race Center agency

Seek 2016 set Sept. 10-11

The Seek 2016 Senior Expo will be Sept. 10-11 at Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus.

The event will include at least 35 vendors with products or services aimed at the 50-plus population. The event also includes two national speakers slated for Sept. 11.

Organizers expect more than 500 people to attend, including representatives from other senior centers in Indiana.

Local leaders also hope to revive the Indiana Association of Senior Centers.

Information: 812-376-9241 or millracecenter.org.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.