Riford Center altering look and clientele

The next step in the Riford Center’s metamorphosis from senior center into community center is to transform its image.

“We need to make the place look like a community center, not a convalescent home,” said Sherry Berman Ahern, one of a core group of directors and officers of the non-profit Friends of the Riford Center. The group was formed a couple years ago to oversee operation of the 35-year-old facility.

“We need to change the look in order to change opinion about it,” she added.

A previous life

Previously known as the Florence Riford Senior Center, the institution is gradually evolving into a center serving adults of all ages in greater La Jolla. Florence Riford donated the building to the city of San Diego in 1989, providing endowment funds to support operations, which today have largely been exhausted paying for operating expenses.

Riford’s supporters recognize that the facility, which had fallen on lean financial times due to a shrinking endowment, needs to grow or it will be “no go.”

Part of the center’s transformation needed to be operational, said Friends chairman Jim Walker. “It’s a nonprofit business,” he pointed out. “You need more activities to attract more members, which then generates funds.”

Raising the bar

Walker said now is the right time to take that next step of raising the bar to turn the center into a broader-based facility.

“Two years ago we started with a 401c3 (nonprofit) so that we could raise enough money to keep the place open,” he said. “We’re moving into a second phase: growing membership.” Riford’s shrinking endowment only covers $12,000 to $15,000 of the center’s $100,000 annual budget.

“We subsidize that with foundation money and contributions,” Walker said, adding that even that support has proved insufficient. Consequently, a membership of $100 per year is now being charged. The facility now has about 425 members. If it could reach 1,000 members, that would just about cover operating expenses, Walker noted.

Renovation to begin soon

To accelerate Riford’s growth and change, the Friends board decided that the center needed to be “spruced up.” Walker said he figures if will take approximately $200,000.

The group has come up with a “honey do” list of remodeling projects, with kitchen expansion and updating topping the list, which also includes exterior painting, patio landscaping and improvements to the facility’s great room, interior decor, bathrooms and front entry and doors.

“The point is that we have a really attractive place that has a sense of home and a sense of purpose that people will be glad to become members of, enhance its programs and participate in,” said Glen Rasmussen, Friends vice chairman.

Community surveyed

The group recently surveyed La Jollans on what they’d like to see in a revitalized Riford Adult Center and came back with fitness and exercise as the community’s top choice. Cooking classes ranked a surprising second.

Consequently, redoing the kitchen to turn it into a top-notch cooking facility is the first priority.

The Friends are also negotiating with the city to purchase the city-owned property. But that is another project - and another big, future fundraiser. Walker estimated the purchase price for the center site at 6811 La Jolla Blvd. could be in the $500,000 to $1 million range.

Rasmussen said the property also has a legal encumbrance on it, a deed restriction requiring it to only be an adult center, which might make it easier for the community to buy. “They (city) don’t want to give it away, obviously,” he said, “but somewhere there needs to be a realization that this is a community benefit.”