Connecting community: Warden seniors trying to restart a senior center

Mar. 6—WARDEN — A group of senior residents in Warden have begun meeting weekly at the Warden Public Library in hopes of restarting a senior center.

Warden resident Tinker Ansel is part of the small group that initiated the meetings, which are currently being held every Saturday from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the library.

"It's all in the infancy stage right now. Nothing is set in stone, but our first meeting, which was three Saturdays ago, we had two people," Ansel said. "Last week we had five, and this week we have ... seven."

Ansel said the Warden Public Library has allowed the seniors to meet as a club for the last few weeks, but that with the group's size increasing they will eventually need a bigger space.

Warden resident Jean Echols, who has helped Ansel and other seniors begin the meetings again, also said location is the priority.

"I think our biggest thing is finding a location where we can meet in order to grow," she said.

One possibility is to meet in the city council chambers at the Warden Police Station, one of the few available facilities, Echols said. She said seniors used to meet at the Community and Senior Center, but it stopped operating more than a decade ago.

"The senior center died out ... the seniors couldn't keep it up," Echols said. "They were dwindling in numbers, so I had the bright suggestion that we sell it to the city for a dollar, and then we could continue to use it as a senior center. Well, we sold it to the city and you can see what happened; we can't use it."

Ansel said the price of renting the former senior center facility is too high to consider as an option.

"It's $100 an hour, plus we have to have a million-dollar insurance bond for the building," Ansel said. "There's not a senior among us who can afford even pitching in ... There's no way. I mean, even if we got all the grants, there's no way."

Echols spoke about how many people used to make use of the senior center's services.

"They had a cook and all of the shop owners and business people would go down there and that place would be lined up with people to eat," Echols said. "Most of the time, with just the seniors themselves down there, there were 20, 30 people every two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it was always full."

Ansel said the group is looking into the possibility of grant funding as well as nonprofit status, opening further funding opportunities.

"After our first Saturday, I printed out a booklet, I think it's from the Secretary of State (website), on how to start a nonprofit, to be able to get the grants and so we can try to get someplace," she said.

If the group could take over responsibility for the Warden Food Pantry, Ansel said, it could offer services, make use of grant funding and simultaneously provide a meeting place for local seniors.

"I've already talked to the food bank in Moses Lake and they're more than happy to supply us," she said. "I'm trying to look at it from every angle."

Ansel outlined some of the possible services a senior center could provide to local seniors and the community, including barbecues and potlucks, an adopt-a-senior program for isolated seniors, seniors reading to school children, community service opportunities to help seniors, a ride-share program, trips, games, Spanish-language programs and more.

"I want to be able to have lunches," Ansel said. "I mean, especially for the low-income seniors, make sure they at least get one good meal."

Ansel said the idea has not progressed far enough to consider staffing or running a senior center, but some funding ideas the group has looked at include operating a thrift store or holding community yard sales.

"(A senior group) is so needed," Echols said. "I mean, we're all sitting here having a good time and wanting to learn about the people in town again. We're to the point where nobody knows anybody anymore. We used to know everybody ... We're all ready to get out and socialize again."

Darla Haworth, who has lived in Warden for 44 years, said she would like to see at least 30 seniors attending the group meetings, and that it can give people an opportunity to get out of the house.

"I'm lucky, I have my family here, but some of us don't have family around and they sit around and watch TV here, and it's so cold and nobody's done anything," Haworth said. "(It's) to have a friend to cry on their shoulder or joke with, or travel with or whatever."

Rosa Ruiz, a Warden resident since 1992, said the meetings are a great opportunity to meet with people in Warden, and agreed that there has been a lack of community events in Warden in recent years.

"I retired ... during the pandemic and I just wanted to be more active in my community," Ruiz said, "and I'm starting to be more active in Warden, because I love this little town."

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com. Download the Columbia Basin Herald app on iOS and Android.