I shared with our Board of Governors recently that, as a kid, I loved roller-coasters. The ups and downs, twists and turns were so thrilling. As we close the chapter on 2017, I think the grown me might have rather taken a ride on the merry-go-round – much less thrilling, no surprises.
We started off the year with a bang!

Our highs were great: Launching from our focus study in late 2016, we began the planning process for the future of our senior centers, looking at programs, facilities and revenue sources to improve the experience for our members and ensure our long-term viability.

We got a fresh new look for our website. More and more of our constituents are going online for information and to make their donations. Our social media presence has grown, too, and we continue to gain new Facebook friends daily.

You may have seen or heard ads for The Caregiving Place, home of the adult day program and the Caregiver Resource Center, with a goal to reach more caregiving families, particularly those who need the support so they may continue working or managing their lives while we care for their loved ones. It’s one of those magical programs that save lives in such profound ways.

The Center for Aging Studies, a new program in 2016, continues to grow with the addition of new courses all the time. Area professionals earn CEUs, but even better, the topics have appealed to hungry learners. Watch for fascinating speakers in 2018.

Our national model clinics, staffed by retired physicians and dentists, worked hard in 2017 to learn a new electronic medical records system, allowing for greater patient education, data tracking and health information sharing with our health care safety net partners in the community.
Then there were the lows that continue to impact us moving forward.

Going through more than a year of fundraising to cover the cost of a new roof on our Friendship Centers building in Sarasota finally culminated in a 12- week summer project that was noisy, messy and expensive. The final product is a new raised-seam metal roof that should last us for decades. That all sounds positive, right? The cost was more than $260,000, but a worthwhile investment in our Center.

Probably the biggest whammy was Hurricane Irma. While many of you worried from up north, lots of us here scurried to brace our homes/buildings, staff and clients for the worst. Meals and water were delivered, calls were made and thousands were evacuated – and found themselves stuck in horrific traffic, looking for gas.

We dodged the direct hit of Irma. However, power outages along the Sun Coast closed our locations, in some cases for more than a week. The cleanup was monumental, but we did it!

We could wring our hands and lament over 2017, but we’ve got too much ahead for which we are excited and enthusiastic.
The planning and work around our activity centers continues, as we search for unique programs to attract new friends. For example, you canread about our new LGBTQ initiative in the January edition of Prime Times, on page 9.

As many of you know, we have had to increase our fees, both for membership and programs, to close the gap on funding reductions and the ever-increasing cost of running these beautiful Centers.

Many thanks to those of you who have taken the time to contact us and share your thoughts – your input is important to us.
Partnerships have always been important, but will be especially so in the coming year as we develop programs with organizations like the Ringling College Lifelong Learning Academy, Boys and Girls Club, the Women’s Resource Center and others. Stay tuned.

The Reinvention Convention, focusing on ageism in November 2017, launched the first in a series of six mini-conferences. The second is scheduled for Nov. 8, 2018, and will bring in national experts to talk about intergenerational harmony. This is a collaboration with Age Friendly Sarasota and others interested in making our community the leader among great places to live and grow.

Finally, we welcome 2018 with pride in all we do, but of course, we couldn’t do most of it without our friends, so thank you for your continued FRIENDSHIP and support!

Erin McLeod
Friendship Centers CEO