Donations are down, volunteer numbers are down — and tensions are running high at the Chetco Activity Center in Brookings these days.
A meeting last Thursday nearly deteriorated into a yelling match after discussion segued into a demand for the resignation of general manager and 15-year volunteer Thayne Groff.
Anonymous notes left in various locations at the center have accused Groff of cursing at people, dressing unprofessionally and using the center’s electricity to charge his vehicle.
In his defense, Glenda Groff — his wife, board treasurer and “appointed representative for concerns” — told the Pilot Monday she has never heard her husband curse, his casual attire has never hampered the organization in quests for grants, and he has paid the center what he guesstimates to be the cost of the electricity he’s used.
“They’ve demanded he resign immediately because all these horrible things,” Glenda said. “Of course he will not resign.”
Glenda said the animosity started brewing in late January when the center’s cook, Eleanor Cook, left.
“It’s been a struggle,” Glenda admitted. “But people don’t know what they’re getting into when they say they want to replace (Thayne).”
She plans to present a list of questions to board candidates at a 1 p.m. meeting today (Sept. 26) asking each how they would carry out the center’s mission statement to provide services, functions and activities and where they would get the money if they plan to replace volunteers with a paid staff.
Currently, the three kitchen staff, the weekly leader of the Time Out program and a janitor are paid.
The center offers four grant-funded programs: Meals on Wheels, lunchtime meals called “Congregate Meals,” Medicare counseling and Time Out for Me, a program designed to give caregivers a day off work.
Other programs the center features include Tax Aide, driver safety, Walk with Ease, social activities and health programs, many of which are free or at a nominal cost.
Meals on Wheels
Another complaint came from Meals on Wheels volunteer Terry Rowland, who said the center’s kitchen staff is not complying with the program’s food standards for the 60 or so recipients that program serves.
“We are actually delivering food under the protein requirement,” he told the board. “Two shrimp does not qualify as (adequate) protein.”
Cook said Meals on Wheels are now often an hour late, not made to specifications and feature too many fried portions.
“We want legitimate complaints,” Glenda said. “We have a lot of restrictions we go by. Half of them have restrictions and we honor them. That list is incredibly important.”
Meals on Wheels offers homebound residents meals at their homes every weekday and frozen meals to get them through the weekend. Friday’s meals include an extra salad and dessert, as well. Each meal is to include a main course, a starch and vegetable, alongside bread, salad and dessert. Milk is optional, but many decline it, she said.
Today’s meeting will not only be a “meet and greet” for the eight candidates running for board seat, but an open discussion where people can “share their ideas, complaints and concerns,” a flyer from board President Carol Owens reads.
“We hope to keep it a positive and productive meeting,” the flyer reads, “meaning no loud outbursts will be tolerated.”
“We don’t want any of these outbursts with people throwing things around,” Glenda said. “We need to have real discussion. Obviously someone has some concerns. This reminds me of junior high: ‘Susie is a jerk’ written on the wall.”
“I’ve heard in the past few months that someone is … angry,” said board member Loretta Goutermont.
“Because nothing’s been done,” Rowland interjected. “The last time I said anything, Thayne and the board laughed.
“We’re volunteers,” he continued. “This used to be a joyful place. Now I come in and I can’t wait to leave. I don’t need this; I don’t want the politics of this place.”
Dealing with such adversity is sometimes part of the job when managing a community center, Groff noted, adding that Thayne has done it well in the past three years he has been the general manager.
In his defense, he outlined in a manager’s report at last week’s meeting his accomplishments since he took over the general manager position in 2015 and what’s involved in keeping it solvent and functional.
Some of that included reinvesting funds to get a better return, resulting in a $200,000 increase since 2015, not including the $60,000 of earned interest for center operations; and eliminating the executive director position after the woman hired failed to obtain grants and put the center’s finances into a downward spiral, he said.
According to Thayne’s report, the center lost $55,000 in 2013, $103,000 in 2014 and $52,000 in 2015.
“When I took office as president in August of 2015, all the center’s savings had been used and the board began to withdraw principal from the investment account,” he said. “When I and another member refused to sign another withdrawal in October 2015, we terminated the executive director.”
He said he, Owens and Glenda have since taken over those duties, including writing government reports, tax returns, collecting receipts and invoices, ensuring insurance is current, increasing rental income, ensuring the lounge is filled with socializing seniors and maintaining its programs.
“The center is in the black now,” he wrote. “We do not have enough money to hire a full-time director or general manager. So if those who wish me to resign do not have a volunteer to replace me, I hope they have someone to donate a considerable amount of money.”
Some in the meeting noted that the three are underappreciated and the work they do is not often replicated in similar centers elsewhere.
“It’s a lot of work, a big operation,” Glenda said. “I do think the people who are demanding Thayne resign do not know what they’d be having to replace.”
Glenda noted that since the notes criticizing Thayne and center operations and left in random locations in the center were anonymous, the board has no way to discuss problems with the complainants.
She said the board had to pass a new rule saying only the kitchen staff could go in the kitchen during work hours after Cook continued to interrupt operations back there after she’d quit.
The board plans to craft a contract whereby people can purchase electricity to charge their cars, and are developing a new contract for room rentals.
Both Cook and Thayne are running for board positions.
Others running for three-year terms include incumbents Jeannie Hanley, Charlie Braught, Kathy Justman and Verdell Wright; challengers include Carol Bayne and Penny Goolsby. Only members can vote, and then, only for four candidates.
“The center is the heart of the community for us older people,” Glenda said. “The visionaries who started it said Brookings needs a senior center. We want to keep it healthy and productive and solve all the problems that occur.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .