WEST FARGO – For about six years, a volunteer committee has been exploring the need for a multiuse West Fargo community/senior center. Its focus has been on the needs of senior citizens, a growing population in the city.

Census data lists almost 13 percent of West Fargo’s population being age 60 or over, says West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan. That’s about 3,900 people based on the 30,000-person population projection posted on West Fargo’s community Web page.

“It’s our belief that the city currently lacks program space for that population,” said Reitan, who heads up a committee of 30 people who started meeting in 2010 to study the needs of senior citizens and others within the community.

About 14-18 active committee members meet once a month at the West Fargo Police Department training room, Reitan said.

“Ultimately, what we would like to see is development of a community center,” space that could be used by a number of organizations, he said. “We want to be able to serve the seniors of West Fargo with opportunities to be outside their home and meet with similarly situated people. It’s scientifically proven that people need that social intervention.”

The committee, called the West Fargo Area Community Center Program, has enlisted the help of Mallory Danford, a graduate student with the North Dakota State University Master of Public Health program, to conduct a senior needs assessment using data collection, interviews and focus groups.

Focus groups are already being held. Danford is also conducting “key informant” interviews with city and business sources and others who represent different views, she said.

“Community engagement is the first step,” Danford said. “That’s half the battle, getting people on board and ready to go.I think there’s a ton of potential.”

Danford said she hopes to have a final report ready by mid-December. “It’s been a great partnership. I’m excited to see where it takes us. “

This month, the organization received a $10,000 Community Innovation Grant from the Bush Foundation to conduct a needs assessment and build a funding strategy to identify and address gaps in community services identified by seniors and other members of the West Fargo community.

Among its 2014-15 objectives are collaboration with the West Fargo School District, Park District and library to develop activities and programs, establishing a permanent location and sustainable fundraising program and increasing participation in the Fargo-based Valley Senior Services meals program.

Last year, VSS served 37,373 meals to West Fargo seniors at three locations including the West Fargo High Rise, Cooperative Living Center, and Faith Lutheran Church, said Brian Arett, VSS executive director.

The WFACCP initiative is a work in progress that began in 2009 when Frank Lenzmeier, a 1970s city commissioner, asked the West Fargo City Commission to consider developing a senior citizens program.

“I’ve always looked at it as being a community center” that young and old could use together, Lenzmeier said.

VSS, which for more than 30 years has been providing noon meals for West Fargo seniors, agreed to expand to a third location.The city rented space at Faith Lutheran Church and VSS starting serving senior meals there on Sept. 1, 2010.

Since then, community center progress has been sporadic.

“I wish we had more of a push from seniors. I wish there was more enthusiasm”, said Lenzmeier, who also serves on the VSS board of directors.

Efforts reached a plateau as the group searched for sponsors. “We realized we needed to look more independently,” said Reitan.

It quickly became evident that larger funding sources were needed, he said. “That’s where the assessment has come in. We have to refocus with a solid needs assessment and documentation to tell our story.”

On Aug. 1, 2012, the WFACCP became registered as a North Dakota nonprofit organization. It obtained 501c3 tax exempt status in February 2014, Reitan said.

“I think it’s going good,” said Lenzmeier, who continues to serve on the committee. “I think if we had a site that was our own, as opposed to being a church, it would help a lot. I think it would be a great idea for us to collaborate with the library to develop one library and community center.”

If a senior/community center comes to fruition, VSS would probably move the Faith Lutheran Church meals program to that location, Arett said.

“It certainly wouldn’t take the place of the High Rise or Cooperative Living Center. We would still serve needs there,” he said.

“I’m excited about the proposal,” Arett said. “I think it would be very beneficial for the West Fargo community.”

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