Still in Phase 1

The Gathering Place Executive Director Dave Fisher stands in an exercise room on the facility’s lower level. The Rock County Public Health Department announced on June 10 senior centers would not move into Phase 2 as the county moved forward with reopening plans. Fisher said before the announcement, he had hoped to open a few amenities, like the exercise room, in a limited capacity. Continuing support of the county’s recommendations puts those plans on hold, he said.

While the Rock County Public Health Department announced June 10 that “data dashboard benchmarks” indicated the county could move into Phase 2 of its pandemic reopening plan, it also identified long-term care facilities and senior centers as among entities that would not move forward, following instead guidelines as outlined in Phase 1.

For The Gathering Place (TGP), 715 Campus St., that means plans to reopen amenities such as the library, porch and exercise rooms, even in a limited capacity, will not take place, TGP Executive Director Dave Fisher said.

There was hope before the health department statement was released that some TGP amenities could be reopened on a limited bases, but, Fisher said: “We decided following the guidelines was the right thing to do and following those recommendations for us means we can’t open right now.

“We understand the need for caution,” Fisher said of the county’s decision.

“We are not essential and we have one of the most vulnerable populations and that’s not going to change,” he said.

While TGP membership is open to all, the majority of the center’s 500 members are over the age of 65, Fisher said.

A prayer to reopen

“People are really anxious to come in. They miss the socialization more than anything. This is a setback for them. This is a second home for a lot of folks. We are intertwined; we are really one big family. We don’t like losing that piece, but safety first,” Fisher said.

An example, he said, is Whitewater resident and TGP member Gene Schrank, 93, who calls nearly daily, asking when the facility will reopen.

“I need it to put more days in my life. It’s my prayer that The Gathering Place will open soon,” Schrank said.

Having recently undergone several surgeries, Schrank said his doctors recommended he find a recumbent trainer to help strengthen his muscles.

Schrank said he found the equipment he needed at TGP. While there, he also enjoys playing pool, he said.

“That machine really helps me. It helps my arms, legs and back, and it’s good for the mind,” he said.

At TGP, he said: “I never had such nice people. They are really friendly and they are so good to me.”

While Schrank said he understood the need to stay safe from the COVID-19 virus — “There’s a sign on my door that says wear a mask to come in. I’m very concerned about it, of course,” he said – as someone who lives alone, he misses the social support.

Unable to visit TGP, Schrank said: “It’s tough. They give so much support. It just encourages you. They care for you; you can sense the love for you. It’s a wonderful place.”

Fundraisers and revenue

While reopening the facility is off the table, Fisher said, the county did not apply Phase 1 restrictions to outside events.

“So outdoor recreational rentals, we could do those with physical distancing and best practices, but we decided not to do that because we can’t open the building,” Fisher said, adding brides and families who booked events before the pandemic began have decided against holding them.

“It has been a mutual agreement to cancel. Some have rescheduled for next year,” Fisher said.

Speaking before the City of Milton Common Council last year, Fisher said TGP generates about $50,000 annually by renting its grounds and facilities for weddings and special occasions.

Fundraisers such as the annual fish boil, Brat Bash, Pumpkin Fest and the summertime Concerts on the Lawn series are also financial contributors. Such events currently are canceled until August, he said.

“The revenue lost this year cannot be retained. It is what it is,” Fisher said.

Looking ahead

Fisher said he will continue to remain in close contact with the county and monitor the decisions associated with the reopening plan.

“Even when the county moves into the next phase (Phase 3), we don’t know where senior centers are going to be. It took two, two-and-a-half weeks for us to get to Phase 2, and I think the next phase will take even longer, maybe into mid-July,” Fisher said.

For now, it’s about staying safe, Fisher said, adding: “We will be together soon and we look forward to that and when the time comes, we will be ready.”

Rock County Senior Nutrition Program and Grab and Go home delivery meal services will continue operating from the TGP kitchen, Monday through Friday, Fisher said. Those interested can learn more or sign up by calling: 757-5474.

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