'Janice Ayres ready to go to bat for seniors and Center'

Retired and Senior Volunteer Program Executive Director Janice Ayres is ready to help deal with the concerns of the volunteers and members at the Carson City Senior Citizens Center, if they come to her.

"I try to stay out of these things (grievances)," said Ayres. "It's not like I don't have anything to do and it's not something I want to do. But this needs to get resolved."

Ayres said the on-going complaints by members regarding quality of food, staff attitude and the lack of communication at the senior center must be resolved.

Complaints were brought to the attention of the staff, the advisory and the governing boards on Nov. 5, with suggestions for resolving each complaint.

Through RSVP, Ayres supplies about 100 volunteers to the senior center. Ayres has been involved with the elderly and volunteering in one form or another for more than 21 years.

Ayres said she has had numerous calls from RSVP volunteers upset with the situation at the Carson senior center including the firing of a volunteer from the center's thrift store. The volunteers want to picket the center and the Nevada Appeal, where a recent column written by Publisher Jeff Ackerman raised their ire for his remarks about having a drill sergeant run the dining room.

"My volunteers are incensed over that," said Ayres. "A center should be a warm, comfortable place for our older Americans to congregate and have lunch, play cards or come and go as they please. We don't need a drill sergeant for God's sake. You shouldn't have to eat lunch in 30 minutes. They are just up in arms over those comments."

RSVP has a grievance procedure for volunteers. The situation is investigated and they try to resolve it. If it can't be resolved, the volunteer is moved to another work area.

"If the situation doesn't work out, then so be it. But we never fire them. We'll find another location for them to volunteer. I've got a lot of volunteers that do not want to work there (Carson center) any more.

"RSVP volunteers don't have to work anywhere they don't want to. Not so much at the center, but anyplace. If they're unhappy, I work with them to find a place where they will be."

Ayres believes the complaints weren't addressed as in-depth as they could have been. She admits that not everyone runs a perfect program, including herself. But the number one key to success is communication.

"It takes quite a balancing act to make everything work at the center. It is a difficult job."

Ayres has suggested to Tom Baker, governing board member, another open meeting - a town forum, on neutral ground, and invite the community. She also suggested that at least two of the governing board members be members of the center. People who are at the center on a daily basis can keep the others informed.

"We'd appreciate any positive input," said Baker, when asked about Ayres' suggestions. "We are working very diligently to get information together that was requested at the meeting on Nov. 5. We are working towards that goal."

Baker said the advisory and governing boards as well as the staff are working together daily to get issues resolved.

"We want to answer everyone's concerns. We want to do it professionally, get it behind us and get on down the road. We just ask these people remember that from that November meeting, we all agreed to print it in the center's January newsletter and there were no voiced problems with that.

"We just ask to give us up to that January newsletter to get information out to the members."

Ayres said the Senior Center has an important role in the community.

"It behooves you to have a pleasant place for seniors to go," she said. "Your door needs to be open, your lines of communication need to be open. The center is accountable to all taxpayers. They have the right to know what's going on.

"They (governing board) just don't know what's going on there. They need someone who can take care of the grievances on a daily basis. The volunteers don't feel like they're being represented by the board. The current board is a good board, but they don't go to the center on a regular basis. It would be a help to Jamie (Lee, director) too. It would be great feedback for her."

A call to Lee on Friday afternoon was not returned.

Ayres said it costs RSVP $42,000 a year to put volunteers in the Carson center, and she does not charge it for the service. She also has no purpose to get involved personally as long as the volunteers are happy, she said.

"Volunteers are solid gold. In 21 years, I've never seen volunteers this visible. They hate confrontation. They hate getting in arguments and will do anything to not have confrontation. But, if that's where they want to work then that's where they're going to, and I'll help support them. I just think I may have been able to help defuse the situation. I've dealt with this kind of stuff for years.

"I'm never too busy to see a volunteer. There needs to someone at the center who has sensitivity training - an ombudsman in an office who is trained and experienced in dealing with geriatrics, who is there five days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to hear any complaints and be taken confidentially and dealt with. That's what is lacking.

"RSVP has a memo of understanding with grievance procedures for volunteers, and it must be dealt with to the volunteer's satisfaction. If every volunteer, the center's and mine, walked out of that center, they'd have to close the doors. I treat volunteers like they're solid gold. I thank God for them every day."

Ayres has asked RSVP volunteers to hold off from doing anything until she hears from the governing board regarding a public meeting. She'd also like a liaison from the center to sit on RSVP's advisory council.

"I'm doing this because I want to make sure these people are taken care of. This is one of the nicest centers I've ever seen. I'd like to see it stay that way. I'm willing to help any way I can. But I'm not going to wait forever."


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