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Service clubs seeking lease, operational control for Riford

While fund-raising is about two-thirds of the way toward the goal of raising $150,000 to cover operating expenses for the next couple years at Florence Riford Senior Center, La Jolla Kiwanis and Rotary service clubs continue to pursue other means to secure the center’s long-term future.

“We’ve raised about $100,000 of the $150,000 to run it as a joint project of Kiwanis and Rotary,” said Glen Rasmussen, La Jolla Kiwanis spokesman. “We need $150,000 for operations so we can expand the center’s hours, increase the number of programs and increase the membership to make the center vibrant operationally, which the city has not been able to do.”

LiveWell, the private organization currently operating the Riford Center under an agreement with the city, is working to assign its lease to the Friends of the Riford Center, a 501 C3 non-profit corporation created in March 2007 to support the senior center.

Both local service clubs have dug deep within their own pockets to supplement the funding of the financially troubled senior center. La Jolla Rotary has donated $20,000 toward the cause. La Jolla Kiwanis Foundation has contributed $25,000.

Florence Riford donated the building to the city of San Diego 34 years ago and provided funds to support its operations. Since then, the center has provided a number of valuable social services to seniors in the jewel at its 5,000-square-foot building with a large main room and meeting rooms surrounded by an outdoor courtyard. Mrs. Riford provided an endowment that currently provides about $75,000 toward annual expenses. However, additional discretionary funds she provided to supplement the endowment income are nearly gone.

The city provides no ongoing financial support for the Riford Center’s expense budget, which is modest as the center relies heavily on volunteers. If enough supplemental funding cannot be raised to match Riford’s endowment funding for center operations, the city may reduce services there or close the facility.

Kiwanians and Rotarians are also interested in assuming operational control of the senior center, as well as finding a way to purchase the property at 6811 La Jolla Blvd.

Keely Sweeney, aide to Council President Scott Peters, said it’s been difficult to find supplemental funds to support the center. “It’s not eligible for Community Development Block Grants (federal funding) because it’s not bricks and mortar, it’s operations,” she said.

Peters has asked the city to explore the possibility of selling the Riford Center parcel. “Scott has asked the Real Estate Assets Department to look into the feasibility of having the Friends organization purchase the site,” Sweeney said, “subject to the deed restriction that it continue as a senior center. People are worried that it could be sold for some other reason, but it can’t be used for any other purposes.”

Jim Walker, chair of the Friends of the Riford Center’s seven-member board, said the long-term solution to securing funding for the Riford Center lies in creating a new endowment fund. “Given time, we can start to build up a long-term endowment which may eventually allow us to buy the facility from the city,” said Walker.

The non-profit corporation’s immediate concern is doing whatever it takes to raise the necessary funds to keep the senior center open and thriving for the next couple of years. Said Walker: “We’re very excited about expanding what we do there. We want to organize more fund-raising events for the community for the center. But we don’t want to be always out there asking for money. We want to get this done and then move on.”

Rasmussen noted the recent Rockin’ The Riford fund-raiser generated about $20,000. But more importantly, it raised community awareness of the center’s financial plight. “We’ve been approached by a number of people of means indicating an interest in helping to endow it,” Rasmussen said. “We’re working on future fund-raisers, a bingo night, a jazz night at the center. It’s available for weddings. If people need to rent the facility it’s got a kitchen, a central courtyard and a large hall where dancing could occur.”

One goal of the Friends’ group is to expand senior center membership. “We’d like to reach out to more young adults 50 and over instead of just relying on seniors,” Walker said. “The concept is to make it more of a (baby) boomer central.”

The Riford Center is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday for bridge from 12:30 – 3 p.m. It is hoped fund-raising will permit the center to be open Monday through Friday.

Those wishing to contribute to the Riford Center can do so by making checks payable to Friends of the Riford Center and drop it by the center. For those who wish to contribute by credit card, a donation form is also available at the Center.

For more information or to discuss how you can help support the Riford Center, call (858) 459-6030.