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Demise of Island Seniors feared

By Staff | Apr 27, 2021

To the editor:

When Eileen Kehoe and I were first married in 2006, she was reluctant to spend six months on Sanibel. Then she joined Island Seniors Inc. and her concerns were gone. Now Island Seniors is in jeopardy. Fortunately, our marriage isn’t.

Island Seniors was created in 1977 from a need for activities tailored to people over age 50. (The median age in the United States is about 38, while on Sanibel it is about 66.) Island Seniors flourished when a central space was provided by the city of Sanibel in 1993 with the Center 4 Life building, the former public library.

Eileen has added lifelong friendships from people she’s met at Island Seniors. This magic has worked for others, too.

Witness the growth: 2005, 563 members; 2010, 712 members; and 2019, 833 members. Overall participation across all activities each year has grown from 6,804 in 2004 to 13,414 in 2019.

Ten years ago, the city ordered a needs analysis for Island Seniors. It called for an expansion of the Center 4 Life. But there were too many problems and too few opportunities for reconstruction or relocation. Five years ago, a second needs analysis confirmed the first. Still no opportunities.

In 2019, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank offered its soon-to-be-vacated building. The Sanibel City Council seized on this opportunity and borrowed money to buy the building and renovate it for a new Center 4 Life. Island Seniors, now 800 strong, was overjoyed with this turn of events. Thirteen months after the city bought the bank building, Island Seniors expected to move into a new home.

However, nothing was done to move the project forward. Now the city council is told of a plan to divert all the loan proceeds to a police building modernization plan for new locker space and offices. No money left for Center 4 Life.

When I was assistant director of both the housing and the redevelopment authorities of the city of Milwaukee, I signed many notes and loans. The proceeds had to be used for purposes that were approved when the money was borrowed. It was illegal for us to divert the proceeds to other projects. Perhaps this situation is different.

As noted earlier, it is vital to Island Seniors that we have a place to congregate. We had to shut down last March because of COVID-19. With no central space, our membership has dwindled to 59.

Now it has been proposed that the Sanibel Police Department occupy the Center 4 Life for two years while its space is redone and that Island Seniors go without a central location. Island Seniors individual activities would be dispersed to The Community House and the Sanibel Recreation Center. We fear that would be the demise of Island Seniors.

You can save Island Seniors by calling 239-472-3700 or emailing the city council and asking that funds for the new building be spent there so the new Center 4 Life is opened in 13 months. And that Island Seniors reoccupy the Center 4 Life building as soon as it is safe to do so. Also, tell of your personal experiences with Island Seniors.

– Mayor Holly Smith: Holly.Smith@mysanibel.com

– Vice Mayor Richard Johnson: Richard.Johnson@mysanibel.com

– Councilmember Dr. Scott Crater: Scott.Crater@mysanibel.com

– Councilmember John Henshaw: John.Henshaw@mysanibel.com

– Councilmember Mike Miller: Mike.Miller@mysanibel.com

You also can voice your support at the council meeting on May 4 at 800 Dunlop Road, Sanibel.

Bud Reinhold