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Column: City, county vital to Mill Race Center serving older population

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“The moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” (U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey in the last speech before his death in 1977)

Since its establishment in 1956 as the first senior center in Indiana, Mill Race Center Inc. has assumed responsibility for providing programs and services for older adults who play a vibrant role in the well-being of our community. During the last 58 years, the number of older adults in Bartholomew County has more than tripled, and that population is projected to increase another 58 percent between 2010 and 2030.


With much greater numbers and the more challenging needs of the older seniors who require assistance to remain in the community, adequate funding has been an increasing challenge.

But thanks to the excellent stewardship of our board of directors, the dedication of our staff and the generosity of our members and the community, we have been able to generate 80 percent of our operating budget.

As early as 1988, our leadership recognized that the old city waterworks could not accommodate the numbers or the changing interests and needs of the older population, so we embarked on a 20-year journey that culminated in a six-year capital campaign that raised $8.5 million to build Mill Race Center.

In order to better serve the age 50-and-older population, we involved major partners such as Columbus Regional Health and Just Friends Adult Day Services to be a part of Mill Race Center and operate fitness and therapy centers and an adult day care program.

Additionally, the Mill Race Center site was planned to accommodate the ColumBUS transit hub and to create a much more impressive, aesthetically pleasing entrance to the community from Indianapolis Road.

We developed a five-year comprehensive business and succession plan, approved in 2013, that included the potential monetary value of two long-held housing communities, whose sale would help meet the expected increased operating costs of the new center, while other revenue streams were developed. This plan assumed that local public funding would increase as well, given that Mill Race Center would be greatly enhancing the health and well-being of a much larger number of Bartholomew County older adults.

Our board and staff leadership believe our plan for the long-term viability of MRC is both responsible and realistic.

Our expanded programs are demonstrating positive results:

Participants are making new friends (a key indicator of good health and well-being in later life).

Reporting improved mental and physical health.

Understanding how to prevent falls.

Learning how to live well with chronic health conditions.

Holistic wellness initiatives, such as our new comprehensive Aging Well program at Mill Race Center, speak directly to the mayor’s Advance Columbus Strategic Plan goal of “radically improving the health and wellness of our residents through healthy behaviors, healthy lifestyles and access to health care.”

For the current budget, Mill Race Center received $19,800 to support wellness programs through city EDIT funds and $8,000 from the county to support membership scholarships and our transportation program. For 2015, Mill Race Center has requested $50,000 each from the City Council and County Council to support programs and services for the 50-and-older population.

This public support can help assure access to Mill Race Center programs, which are offered to our 2,300 members and the more than 4,000 residents who take advantage of numerous health programs that do not require membership. We must keep our programs affordable, especially for the many older seniors whose income drops precipitously with age, especially due to loss of a spouse.

Mill Race Center is working hard to achieve our mission of keeping age 50-and-older adults healthy, independent and involved in positive ways in the community.

We need increased local taxpayer support to meet the needs of our growing population. This kind of public support is common for centers in many Indiana communities of similar size to Columbus and is the rule rather than the exception for large successful older adult centers around the nation.

We’d like to express our appreciation to the many community partners we’ve had the pleasure of working with. We have been very grateful for the support for older adults during our 58-year history, and — with the support of city and county officials — we look forward to continuing to harness the tremendous talents and to meet the growing needs of this important population.

Let us all work together to assure that the twilight of life will be filled with opportunities for successful aging, with continued learning and exciting new adventures, with continued service to our families and the community, and with the dignity and respect that are richly deserved.

Lynne Sullivan is president of the Mill Race Center board of directors, and Bob Pitman is Mill Race Center’s executive director.

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