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Riford Center seeking to serve broader population

La Jolla’s Florence Riford Senior Center has a new director, a new name and a new aim.

Lynda Hunt, the center’s former executive director, left in November 2007 for personal reasons, and Sarah Peters, the center’s only paid employee, is now in charge of daily operations.

The Florence Riford Senior Center, now simply The Riford Center, is offering new activities of interest to adults in the La Jolla area. Now managed by a community-based nonprofit group, The Friends of the Riford Center, the center is undergoing a “metamorphosis” that community members who care about its long-term well-being want to see happen.

“We took over responsibility for the center, and we’ve been working hard since Oct. 1, 2007 to improve the place and get better services,” said Jim Walker, chairman of the center’s 10-member board of directors. “We’re expanding activities. We’re really trying to broaden it, make it our community center. That’s the aim.”

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Walker noted the Riford facility has been viewed as more of a traditional senior center, where the average age of members has been 74. “We’re really trying to expand the membership,” he said, “particularly to make it attractive to people all the way down to their 40s. We want it to be an adult center, not just a senior center, serving the community.”

Open since 1972, the center has been paid for with the aid of membership dues, but inflation and rising operational costs have forced the center over time to rely more and more on a generous endowment established by Florence Riford more than 25 years ago. The Riford Center is owned by the city of San Diego but receives no government funding. The endowment returns less than $100,000 to the center per year, more than $20,000 per year less than what it costs to run it.

The Riford Center’s ongoing deficit created a fiscal crisis threatening its long-term survival. At that point, a coordinated effort was launched between La Jolla Rotary and Kiwanis clubs to find ways to make the center more self-supporting, and establish a new, long-term endowment fund to ensure the center’s survival.

“I’m very excited,” said Sarah Peters, the center’s new director. “I feel like I’m really getting in on the ground floor of something that’s really going to take over and grow.”

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A number of programmatic changes have been made at the Riford Center to broaden its appeal.

A monthly newsletter, “At The Riford,” provides information on activities and opportunities to get involved in La Jolla’s only community adult center.

Evening activities in January at the center now include a new short-form Tai Chi class at 7 p.m. on Mondays taught by Sherlie Miller, and yoga on Tuesday nights ongoing at 7 p.m., taught by Jean Glover. There are also plans to host adult instruction in ballroom dancing.

The Riford Center also offers a variety of exercise, games, art classes, special presentations, language classes and discussion groups. Martha Raby-Sturmer, an instructor from San Diego Community College, leads all of the center’s traditional low-impact aerobic exercise classes.

The center’s line-dancing class meets Thursdays from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. A new Investment Club, facilitated by Jeff Krumeich of AG Edwards, has been formed. Join Krumeich in talk about the basics and trends of investing and share in evaluating investment opportunities.

Come learn about various real estate topics in a “lunch and learn” discussion with Kim Bauman. The first session will be Wednesday, Jan. 23 at noon. RSVP to the center at (858) 459-0831. A new discussion group led by Dr. Ellen Jacobs will focus on the challenges and joys of parenting teenagers and adult children. Attend the first meeting on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m.

Sherry Berman Ahern, a local entrepreneur who spearheaded creation of La Jolla’s Farmers Market, who is also a member of the Riford Center’s new nonprofit board, is convinced the center’s fortunes can be turned around. But she added there’s a lot of work - and fund-raising - that needs to be done before that can happen.

“We saved it, that’s great,” said Berman Ahern. “But we need money to continue to keep it going. We’ve got to write grants, get residents to donate money, raise awareness.

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“We’re going to have to fix the place up so we can have parties, rent it out on the weekends. My goal is to make it a real community center. It’s been a senior center. Now it’s an adult center. I think with the baby boomers, there can be a huge increase in the center’s population. By increasing its appeal, it won’t be pigeonholed into one age group.”

Last year, Berman Ahern held a successful fund-raiser, Rockin’ The Riford with live entertainment, in May at the Riford Center. She is doing it again this year and plans to make it an annual fund-raising event to support the center.

Dr. Lee Vida, treasurer for the Riford Center’s new nonprofit board, said the dedication of the core group which has taken upon itself the task of resurrecting the Riford Center has been impressive.

“The dedication of the 20 or 30 local people in the community to this center has been amazing,” Vida said. “We’ve just ordered 10 new computers for the center, added new services and activities, and now the center is not only open Monday through Thursday, but is now open Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A lot is happening.”

Vida said the financial bar is being raised even higher to benefit the Riford Center. “We’d like to establish a $2 million endowment for the center’s long-term future,” he said. “That’s going to be a big challenge.”

Walker said Council President Scott Peters’ First District office is checking into the possibility of allowing the La Jolla community to buy the Riford Center building from the city of San Diego. “That way, we’d be free of the constraints of the city,” Walker said, “and the city would be relieved of the burdens of the center. That way we can make it our own community center. The city’s going to appraise it at less than market value because it’s going to be dedicated as an adult center. That’s in the works.”

For more information call the Riford Center at (858) 459-0831, Sherry Berman Ahern at (858) 349-4769, e-mail sherry@thankyouplants.com or visit www.rifordcenter.org.