Seniors Mourn Loss Of Hcc Classes Amid State Cuts

November 03, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Rose Bauer holds her right hand in the air, slowly wiggling one finger at a time.

All around her, more than a dozen senior citizens dothe same, one hand at a time. Canes and walkers lean against chairs.

But Bauer sits out the exercises when her friends at the county'sBel Air Senior Center flex their left legs.

"My left side is paralyzed. I had a stroke 12 years ago," the Whitehall resident, 76, said.

She credits the exercise class she attends three times a week with giving her partial mobility in the leg.

"One day, my left leg just moved from the kneecap down," she said. "When I see all the others exercise, I exercise too."

Bauer says the sit-and-stretch drill has restored some movement to her left leg for the first time since the stroke.

Class instructor Barbara Matts won't swear that the low-impact exercise regimen she designed for her students has made a difference in Bauer's mobility.

But Matts says that Harford CommunityCollege's decision Oct. 25 to eliminate it and other free classes itoffers to senior residents could have a major effect on the seniors'lives.

"The seniors are learning that they need exercise to stay healthy and avoid injuries," said Matts, who faces the loss of her part-time job at county senior centers in Bel Air, Havre de Grace and Aberdeen.

The end of the classes Dec. 20 means one more source of stress for the seniors on top of the loss of jobs, decline in income and erosion of identity that routinely accompany advancing age, Matts said.

The classes are being eliminated because the latest round ofstate cuts hit hard at the college, which lost almost $1.5 million, or 10 percent of its total budget. Seeking to preserve academic programs, the trustees voted to eliminate its off-campus senior program, saving about $107,000.

The county Office on Aging relied heavily onthe free courses offered by HCC for more than half of the activitiesit offers at its five senior centers in the county.

More than 2,700 senior citizens attend the classes, which include woodworking, crafts, painting and ceramics.

County Office on Aging Director James McGill said he will try to keep the senior centers open but may have to make tough choices on what services will continue to be offered atthem.

About half of the office's $1.1 million budget is spent on transportation, and most of the rest is devoted to contracted services for housebound seniors, including physical and personal care, cleaning and meals.

The Aging on Office spends about $140,000 on the meal and nutrition programs at the centers and another $40,000 on staffand administration.

It must absorb $52,000 in direct cuts from the state.

Staff will continue dispensing lunches and nutritional information, but without the classes, McGill says, the centers could betransformed from their multiservice mission to referral agencies.

Nancy Fedoruk's ceramics students worry that losing their class could break up a special society that formed when the Bel Air center opened 10 years ago.

"If we have problems, we talk about it here," said Auldeen Geller, 73. "It's like a therapy class, and it gives us a day out."

The 10 women who crowd into the tiny room they painted and furnished say they like to "kibitz" about their homes and families and children while they paint details on crafts such as Christmas gnomes glazed in a kiln.

"If one's sick, it's just like one of the family. We all check up on each other," said Helen Chambers, who describes herself as a "recycled teen-ager."

Classmates say they have supported each other in the bad times, such as when one of their numberlost a daughter to cancer, as well as the good times.

"This is myfamily," Fedoruk said. "Everybody says, 'Cut everywhere.' But they cut most where people can't defend themselves."

Cruising on a motorized wheelchair through the woodworking shop he manages, Francis Grimm said his students cannot afford to lose the chance to do something productive with their time.

"People look forward to this class," the retiree, 73, said. "It breaks up their boredom. Otherwise, they'd sit at home and decay."

Ed Chachich, 66, who retired only three years ago from his job as an ordinance training supervisor at Aberdeen Proving Ground, said he'll find other things to do. But he worries about some older friends who don't have his mobility or good health.

"People talk about the senior citizens' doing things and being involved," Chachich said. "But what they really want to do is warehouse us, and they're taking this away from us."

McGill said his office isconsidering whether some classes can be saved through a combination of volunteers and sharing students fees. He is also seeking an exception to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's general order to cut budgets by 2 percent to make up for the loss of another $4.9 million in state aid.

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