Senior Center Closes Doors Amid Financial Problems
ALAMO – Hundreds of seniors are left to fend for themselves after a Rio Grande Valley service center closed its doors unexpectedly.
“SCOS is closed until further notice,” volunteers who showed up at the Senior Community Outreach Services Inc. on Tuesday were greeted by a sign and a locked front door.
The orange brick building along Austin Avenue in Alamo may not catch your eye, but it's a center of joy for David Reyna. He’s one of the nearly 200 volunteers at the center.
"It's something I had to do, I've been doing it for six years," Reyna said.
Reyna said he's paid $2.49 per mile to take an elderly man to and from doctor's appointments. The now-closed center has branches in Brownsville and San Benito.
“There are people that had Alzheimer’s, they can’t walk, they can’t get up and we are the only ones that help them,” he said.
“How come they didn't tell us before with time? So we can tell the clients, ‘Hey this is happening,’” Reyna questioned.
On Tuesday, volunteers peered in windows looking for answers. Even the receptionist was in the dark.
“I didn't even know it was suspended. I was out yesterday and I just came to work and they just told me the bad news. I didn't know,” said Rachel Legler.
A CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew was allowed in one last time before the center's doors were locked. They stayed closed for the rest of the day.
“We just want to know what's going on. They say, ‘Well Mr. Perez is going to talk to you guys.’ But they haven't talked to us,” said Reyna.
We spoke to SCOS executive director Jose Perez by phone before he hung up on us.
"I can't make any comments. I was authorized by the board not to do so until they decide as to what's going to happen,” he said by phone.
A Senior Community Outreach Services board member spoke more freely.
Francisco Brillones said they have not received crucial fund reimbursements from a federal agency for three to four months.
"This has created a cash flow problem for us,” he said. “At a board meeting last week, we elected to suspend the programs.”
Brillones said that same agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service, is investigating their organization's use of grant money.
"Yes, I am aware but I’m not authorized to discuss that,” Brillones said.
"Can you say whether or not fraud occurred?" asked KRGV’s Matt Rist.
"I cannot discuss that,” Brillones said.
Thirteen staff members were laid off, according to Brillones. He said the outreach service will try to bounce back.
Corporation for National and Community Service spokesperson Mary Love confirmed operations at the center were suspended Monday but did not say why.
“I can also tell you that Senior Community Outreach Services is a longstanding Senior Corps grantee, receiving more than $660,000 in grants from Senior Corps.
“We at CNCS take every precaution when it comes to the use of tax payer dollars – and these processes in place further ensure we are using taxpayers’ dollars in a responsible and efficient manner.”
Love also described the suspension process and reasons why it occurs.
“A suspension of a grantee generally lasts one week, giving them time to respond and show cause with reason to lift the suspension.
During this period of time, all active volunteers are suspended from serving. If such a response is not received, there is a process in place to begin termination. Suspensions are temporary to give a grantee and the agency time to work through ways resolve issues and lay out a plan for corrections.
In addition, suspensions typically happen for a variety of reasons including cases of the mishandling of taxpayer dollars, failure to comply with grant requirements, or misconduct of volunteers. And in some cases, a grantee may suspend themselves for financial reasons.”
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