Unease in Camden: Senior center patrons' concerns persist

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

CAMDEN — A number of Camden County residents who frequent the county’s senior center say they like its facilities, programs and staff. They have other concerns about the center’s operations, however, that they don’t believe county officials are adequately addressing.

For example, they remain concerned about the center’s vacant assistant director position; the county’s cancellation of a center-planned trip to Ireland; and by what they say is the imminent departure of the center’s director, Jasmine Wilson.

While Camden County Manager Ken Bowman has acknowledged canceling the Ireland trip, he has declined to discuss details of any personnel-related matters, citing state laws. He has said, however, that Wilson has not been fired.

But a group of senior center patrons said Friday they have heard Wilson is being forced out of her job at the center. They acknowledged that what they have heard are rumors, but added they’re having trouble finding out what the true facts are.

“We don’t want her to leave and she doesn’t want to leave,” said Geneva Hines.

Wilson has been at the center for seven years and done a great job, Hines said.

Hines and another senior center patron, Carolyn Smith, said they are concerned that there is no paper trail — no negative evaluations, for example — to support Wilson leaving the center.

“Jasmine appears to be getting a rotten deal in our book,” Hines said.

Wilson was not available last week to comment for this story.

Smith said Wilson has really moved the senior center forward. Officials from the Area Program on Aging have commended Wilson, Smith added.

Hines said Wilson holds something called “tea time” in which she discusses with senior center users what they would like to be doing. And Hines and Smith noted Wilson is trained in providing health and insurance information through the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program operated by the N.C. Department of Insurance.

Senior center patrons say they enjoy different activities. Percy Daniels, for example, said he enjoys playing bingo and going on some of the day trips the center plans. Others exercise in the fitness room and many come for lunch

Patrons say at various times the director and assistant director have taken on additional responsibilities, including delivering lunches through the Meals on Wheels program. But the senior center has not held most of its activities in January and February, which seems to be a result of not having an assistant director on staff, according to Smith.

Bowman said last week that he’s working to fill the assistant director position.

Patrons also have expressed concern about the canceled Ireland trip. They said they’ve also heard that an upcoming trip to New York is also being canceled.

Hines said Camden seniors asked for the Ireland trip. She added that the Camden Senior Center has been taking trips for years and even took a trip to Alaska.

Smith said trips are an important part of what the senior center does.

“Senior centers take trips,” she said.

Bowman acknowledges he “pulled the plug” on the Ireland trip, saying it would have required too much time overseas travel for the senior center’s already-limited full-time staff. 

“We just don’t have an unlimited staff or budget,” he said.

Bowman said the planned trip to New York is still moving forward, however.

Bowman also said he’s looking to develop a policy on out-of-town trips for the senior center that will balance the public’s interest in taking the trips with the need to have center staff on-site for other programs.

Hines said one of her biggest concerns is that senior center users have not received any communication from the county about apparent changes at the center.

Pennie Bailey expressed a similar concern.

“We don’t hear any concrete information,” Bailey said.

Bowman said he has not met with senior center patrons about their concerns because the first he heard of them was at county commissioners’ meeting last week. And many of the rumors that appear to be circulating he didn’t hear about until the end of this week, he said.

“All they have to do is call me and I will squelch the rumors,” Bowman said. “I don’t know who they’re getting their information from.”