by SUMMER HAMPTON
Brooksville’s city council may find more uses for the city’s multi-purpose Mining Association Enrichment Center. Originally the former processing plant for the Brooksville Quarry, it was renovated to function as an emergency shelter in 2011. It is also the home to the Enrichment Centers Inc. 501c3 program for Seniors. On July 19, 2021, Hernando County YMCA representatives asked the city council to consider allowing them to use space in the Enrichment Center so they can bring more programs to the city. On the same evening, Dell Barnes, Enrichment Center Director and Paul Morana, Enrichment Center President submitted a $50,000 funding request to sustain the program for seniors through 2022. Councilmember Bailey remarked that perhaps a condition of granting city funding would be to also provide services to the city’s homeless population.
Hernando County YMCA representative Joanie Scarangella and Holden Regal, the Healthy Living Director at the Hernando County YMCA, provided an overview of YMCA’s service to our community. While the YMCA is located in Spring Hill, Scarangella and Regal asked the council to consider allowing them to partner with Brooksville’s Enrichment Center so they can bring their services into Brooksville at a brick and mortar location.
Scarangella asked the question, “Why the Y?” Her answer was, “People need certain things to thrive. We need to eat well, stay safe, be active, spend time together, learn and grow. Sadly, in an increasingly technological and polarized world, it’s not always easy to get what we need. Playing outside has become a rarity. Facetime happens through a phone. And instead of seeing the income gap shrink, it seems all we do is watch it grow. But where society falls short, the Y steps in. Because, after 170 years of serving communities, the Y knows what we need to be our best selves. So, it gives us a place to play, to learn, to be healthy, to eat well and give back. It gives parents child care, young adults job training and children a safe place to go. Everything the Y does is in service of making us better.”
As the nation’s leading nonprofit committed to helping people and communities learn, grow and thrive, the Y is dedicated to inspiring positive change near and far. They offer a chance to build social responsibility, by giving back and providing support to our neighbors. They also offer a scholarship program. Hernando County’s YMCA has served the area for 32 years.
The YMCA’s promise is to strengthen the community and their areas of focus are: youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Nurturing the potential of every child and teen is the goal. Kids deserve the opportunity to discover who they are and what they can achieve. The YMCA also offers before and after school care programs with a focus on closing the achievement gap with tutoring offered. Various summer camps and group exercises are offered as well.
As far as healthy living goes, the Y offers a variety of programs for active older adults. They have a program called “LiveStrong” which will be coming to the Y very soon. This is free to anyone in the community that is a cancer survivor or is currently diagnosed with cancer. This is funded through various other programs through the Y.
Scarangella stated, “Our asking is to get some type of brick and mortar presence in Brooksville. Maybe tag-team with Dell Barnes at the Enrichment Center. This would enhance the Enrichment Center and the YMCA’s youth programs and other services.”
Councilmember Blake Bell asked the YMCA to come and present to the council. He stated, “There is going to be a request for the Enrichment Center to receive funding. The request from the Y is not for funding.” Bell said the request is to let the Y use space at the Enrichment Center so they can expand their youth services. He said it would be a benefit to have a brick-and-mortar in Brooksville to establish more of a presence. They could provide homework help for after-school programs, it would also help with fundraising. “Because without a brick and mortar, it’s hard to ask individuals to put money into something they can’t see or feel. The request is, if the council decides to fund the Enrichment Center, allow for the Y to work with Dell… to enhance what Dell is already doing there. Really want to focus on the youth population in Brooksville and try to get some good programs for the youth. Of course it will not be as robust as the Spring Hill operation is, because it’s been around for 30 years. But this is an option for a start in Brooksville for the Y. This was the reason the YMCA was asked to come and present tonight.”
The Enrichment Center is open to working with the YMCA to develop joint programs, according to board member Joe Mason. Dell Barnes, Director of the Enrichment Center, listed numerous benefits the program brings to the area’s senior population. Barnes gave a presentation back in June providing an update in regards to the activities at the Enrichment Center. “We’re here today to ask you to help us continue those activities,” said Barnes. The Enrichment Center is requesting a $50,000 grant from the city for FY 2022.
Barnes stated he wanted to find out what the population is within the 34601 zip code. According to citydata.com, there are 22,732 people in Brooksville as of 2019, that number has surely increased since then. Of that number, there are 5,275 seniors 65 and older and that’s about 23.2% of the population. The Enrichment Center focuses on seniors, so they want to focus on that number. Barnes stated, “We want to continue providing health information and focusing on activities for the seniors so they can remain active. Another thing I want to present to you is, from Brooksville there are 149 members that live or reside in the city and are members of the Enrichment Center and 326 residents of Brooksville profited from the produce distribution that we do every year. We want to continue that, but we can’t without your help. We’re here to ask for your help and assistance.”
Paul Morana, President of the Enrichment Center, said, “I joined this group four years ago to carry on the work my dad started 30 years ago. The future goals we have for this upcoming year are we want to expand on the programs that we already have in place. We would like to do a health fair this year, I think that would be a great asset to the community. Pre-COVID we had some dance, computer, and exercise classes in mind. We have everything in place for these, the personnel and the space. We want to have a monthly lunch and learn, which is bringing guest speakers to the community. Such as, doctors, dietitians, physical therapists, financial planners, etc. to continue assisting seniors in the county. The cool thing is we have a lot of production equipment already, so we can videotape and live stream our conferences or training classes then we can post later on YouTube or Facebook for those seniors who are homebound. We have a good working model in place. We are just looking for a little assistance.”
Joe Mason, member of the board for the Enrichment Center, stated, “Fifteen years ago we identified the old mining crushing building at Bud McKethan Park as a place that was eligible from the construction standards to be an emergency shelter… We used to have two locations, one in Spring Hill and the other at Oak Hill Hospital. Oak Hill and HCA in general pulled back their sponsorship of senior service organizations. And we transferred our operation to HMA and continued to operate at two hospital locations. Over the course of Covid, hospitals have decided that senior service organizations are expendable. All over the country they are being cut back. We have been cut back from HMA. We’ve operated for now 10 years in the old mining crusher facility. With the city’s assistance, we were able to get a $600,000 congressional grant, a $600,000 Florida legislative grant, a grant from the county, and we’ve entered into a long-term occupancy agreement with the city and we are now 10 years into that. We take a great deal of pride in offering the services that we offer. The Enrichment Center goes back much beyond the 2005-2010 era that I just described. We go back to the mid 1980’s when the Enrichment Center was formed at what was then Lykes Memorial hospital, became Brooksville Regional Hospital.”
Their membership numbers have decreased significantly since COVID and they are just now beginning to bring their operations back. Mason said that pre-covid, membership was around 1600-1800.
Mason stated, “Up until this point we’ve been able to operate without our handout to city and county authorities.” He remarked that they’ve worked well with the two hospitals, but now that they have cut the funding, they must ask for the city’s help. These organizations are routinely sponsored by local governments throughout the state of Florida; they are in Citrus, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, etc. and they have significant public support of enrichment centers.
The Enrichment Center will be asking the county for assistance as well. Mason said, “We are asking you the city for a $50,000 grant to bring us through the next year. We would greatly appreciate your assistance. We’ve given you a copy of our budget. Our budget is, in round numbers, $180,000. We were receiving $165-168,000 from HMA. The reason we’ve had to up the amount is that HMA provided extra budget items such as copy machines, paper, toner, etc. provided internet service. We’ve had to add several thousand dollars to the cash we were receiving from HMA to get back to where we were when we were working with them.
“We’re engaged in an operational cost split with the county. We have a special request, it’s not in our letter, we ask that until we can get into your next budget here hopefully with your budget contribution- we ask that you waive the operational split for the rest of this budget year.”
Councilmember Bell questioned, “The parking lot, can we address that? If the city and county decide to give funding, can we make sure that folks in the city can use that parking lot after 4 or 5 pm at night?”
Mason stated, “The issue about the parking lot at that time was about liability. The parking lot gives direct access to the golf course. There’s two big holes there, and there was a lot of concern that people would drive through the parking lot to the golf course. We often found evidence of cars on the golf course. The decision was made that when we were not occupying the center that the gate would be closed. It’s not our decision. The question is from a liability standpoint if it suits the liability standards and if there’s any issue with the insurance company. We defer the decision to the city, our only concern is if we can control the parking lot during our hours of operation for our members.”
Councilmember Bailey asked, “You’ve discussed helping elderly and youth, any talk about helping the homeless?”
Mason responded, “One thing I left out, the condition for us getting the legislative grants ($1.2 million), we are a special needs emergency shelter. For example, during tropical storm Elsa, the Enrichment Center was handed over to the emergency management office and the shelter was operated.” Dell Barnes said about 15 people came to the shelter during Elsa. “In terms of assisting the homeless we have no residential area,” said Mason. “We would be happy to make the facility available if someone wanted to operate a meals facility. We at one point in time were the local contact for the meals on wheels program. But I’m not sure as I stand here…, what we could do in terms of assisting the homeless other than to provide some recreational facilities for them. To be a part of our programs… in terms of providing a residential facility we just simply couldn’t do that.”
Councilmember Bailey asked, “Is there a shower facility? That was a big concern for our homeless population.”
Barnes responded, “We have showers but they have not been utilized. They would have to be improved for regular operation.”
Bailey asked, “If council approves the grant, is that something that could be used to improve that and get it working?”
Mason replied, “We can certainly work with that in mind to see what kind of arrangements can be made. The one thing we want to do, our goal in life, is the senior population. Our focus is providing recreational respite from the loneliness of sitting at home. We don’t want to shift our focus from that but I’m sure we can work with some compatibility to make that happen.”
Mayor Brayton remarked, “We will take your request under advisement and place it in our budget and see if we can keep it there. We will work towards it accordingly.”
Hernando Sun Editor Julie B. Maglio contributed to this report.