In the late 1960s there was no "senior center" in Palo Alto, despite early trends showing a growing proportion of older residents in the Midpeninsula.
When a proposal was put forth to create such a center in the former headquarters building for Palo Alto's police and fire departments, at 450 Bryant St. just north of University Avenue, several members of the City Council expressed serious concerns, bordering on opposition.
Their primary concern was that creating such a center might attract older persons from throughout the Bay Area, exacerbating what already was becoming an older-population mix in the community.
Cost was also a concern.
But, as sometimes happens in the world, a handful of individuals stepped up to provide the vision, personal effort and financial support to make the concept real.
On April 1 <0x2014> no joke, folks — the vastly expanded center will open its doors to the public. It's well worth a visit.
Nearly a half century ago what senior services existed in the Midpeninsula were fragmented among scores of government and nonprofit entities. Worse, those providers knew little about what others were providing, leading to both wasteful duplication and serious gaps.
Palo Alto, being forward-looking, had taken two modest steps toward increasing services for its increasing number of older residents.
It created a "Senior Coordinating Council of the Midpeninsula, Inc." with the assigned purpose or identifying available services from government and nonprofit agencies. That mouthful of a name quickly became the shorthand "SCC," and eventually "Avenidas," the avenue.
And the city created a half-time senior services coordinator position and hired the late Diana Steeples. She was given a small office in the then-new Downtown Library on Forest Avenue, in the shadow of the then-new Civic Center (City Hall).
At the time, I was a still-youngish reporter for the erstwhile Palo Alto Times, assigned to cover Palo Alto city government and some regional issues such as transportation and environment.
It was a late-1960s column by national columnist Sylvia Porter, published in the San Francisco Chronicle, that alerted me to the many potential problems of what came to be called the "Aging of America." She noted that while a growing percentage of older persons was occurring nationally, it was particularly occurring in two hotspots: Dade County, Florida, and Palo Alto, California.
The impacts, she noted, could be severe in many areas, but particularly so in the area of health care and economic support. She predicted, as I recall, that over the next 30 or 40 years the number of working, younger persons available to provide support for older, retired persons would decline by about half. In other words, instead of 11 younger persons providing support there would be just five younger, working-age persons.
Also, the need for vastly expanded health care services and facilities would require major funding commitments, planning and implementation, she noted.
Thus forewarned, I began paying serious attention to the topic of population and aging.
As for the City Council, the several members resisting the notion of a creating a senior center kept anything substantive from happening, beyond the half-time senior-services coordinator and an outfit with a vague "coordinating" assignment.
Then along came the first two "heroes" of the cause: Carol Bernhardt and Queenie Amirian. Bernhardt was an expert in conducting surveys, so they teamed up and did one about seniors in Palo Alto.
Their discovery was a bombshell, of sorts. They found that a majority of seniors living in Palo Alto had been residents for more than 25 years, with many more living in town for a decade or two. Many were service providers such as grocery clerks and gas station attendants, co-existing with the Stanford professors and other professionals: doctors, lawyers, teachers — those who keep the community functioning.
Seeing the stability and breadth of the senior population, and the projected increase in the demographics of aging, all opposition to a senior center folded.
But, with an eye on funding, the City Council attached a condition. It would turn over the old police/fire building to the Senior Coordinating Council on one condition: That the SCC first raise $1 million toward the building's redesign and renovation.
This was an "impossible dream," requiring a "miracle," some skeptics predicted.
But two more heroes stepped forward, the late Sid Mitchell, a longtime physician with the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, and the late Wesley "Bud" Hubbard, partner in the landmark Hubbard & Johnson lumber/hardware company.
They spearheaded the effort that achieved the miracle level of funding. And the city kept its part of the deal, along with providing a substantial level of annual budget support for the operation.
The SCC continued its "coordination" role even as the number of direct services increased at the center.
My direct ties to the operation continued. After I retired from the Times in 1979, I soon joined the new Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a nonprofit outgrowth of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic and the Palo Alto Medical Research Foundation.
I was invited to join the SCC board, and did so circa 1982.
The going wasn't always easy. Challenges arose, from operational fundraising to defining the agency's mission. A succession of directors brought individual strengths (and some weaknesses) to the operation, and it once faced a potential breakup with partner services. The breakup was averted when fellow board member Candace Hathaway and I presented a Fundraising Committee report warning that if the partner entities broke away they would have no core fundraising operation, and their departure would jeopardize the mission and fundraising of the SCC itself.
The huge expansion of facilities and services in the new building were well-described by Weekly reporter Chris Kenrick in the March 1 issue.
It's an impressive, well-coordinated building (sadly missing the old brass firepole of the old fire headquarters) that matches well the mission and the pre-Avenidas mouthful of the Senior Coordinating Council of the Midpeninsula, Inc.
This story contains 991 words.
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