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Community centers for senior citizens around the region and across the state are more than just a place to gather for a meal and some camaraderie. They’re a community within a community, concentric circles that share a common center — that center being a vulnerable population with special needs and considerations.

The sense of community and the actual community itself have been damaged by a pandemic that has forced partial or complete shutdowns of Area Agency on Aging-affiliated Senior Community Centers. It’s for the safety of the members, but the impact has hurt revenues and relationships.

Rebuilding will be necessary after the punch of COVID-19 has been softened by the broad vaccination initiative that is underway. Toward that end and with the future in mind, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging has awarded $2 million in grants to be equally divided among 405 AAA-affiliated community centers for seniors. The allocation is for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021.

The state shifted from its usual practice in the distribution of grants. That normal practice involved a competitive grant application process. Instead, each of the state’s 52 area agencies on aging will receive enough money to give each of its eligible senior centers $5,000. Proceeds come from the Pennsylvania Lottery.

The state is allowing each senior center the flexibility to spend its funding through June 30, 2022 — an extra year.

The funding can be used for many initiatives, from renovations to outreach to rent payments to programs.

It was smart to deviate in these unusual times from the usual grant-making process. The state is recognizing that time and effort to make those grant applications is likely in shorter supply during a deadly pandemic. Furthermore, every senior center in the state has been impacted in some way and could use a financial boost.

It’s now incumbent on the area agencies on aging to help their member senior centers spend the money wisely. While an equal grant of $5,000 is equitable, the money and the good it could do may go further if partnerships are made in its spending.

Local leaders of and advocates for the region’s senior centers should have the final say in how to spend their grants. But AAA administrators should encourage creative thinking and collaboration.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 7, 2021

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