Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Meeting place for North End seniors may be on the move

Owners can't afford building, which has been put up for sale

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Luba Cates is a volunteer at the North End's Gwen Secter Senior Centre, which is being put up for sale by the National Council of Jewish Women Canada.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Luba Cates is a volunteer at the North End's Gwen Secter Senior Centre, which is being put up for sale by the National Council of Jewish Women Canada. Photo Store

For seniors in the North End, it's one of their last centres left standing and they don't want to lose it.

The nearly 300 who visit the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre on Main Street have been told they have to go by May 2016.

"This would be one of the saddest things that could happen in the North End," said Luba Cates, who volunteers and is a member of the centre. It's mainly funded and run by the Jewish community but is open to everyone, she said.

"This place is unusual," she said. "People here have ears for everybody and a heart for everybody. That's very important," said Cates.

The building at 1588 Main St. is owned by the National Council of Jewish Women Canada (NCJWC) and it's putting it up for sale, to the disappointment of many there for lunch Wednesday.

'This would be one of the saddest things that could happen in the North End'

Cynthia Lazar, president of the NCJWC, said they're trying to balance their books and can no longer afford the building. It was purchased by the Winnipeg section of the council in the 1980s and made available to the Gwen Secter centre, Lazar said in an email.

"It's a good meeting place with people from different nationalities -- it's open to anybody," said Max Hochman, 92. He lives in north Winnipeg and drives to the seniors centre every Wednesday for lunch and to socialize. "Almost everything is in the south end (of the city)," said Hochman. "This is about the only thing in the North End," he said. In June 2012, Age & Opportunity's Main Street Senior Centre closed its doors.

With demographics shifting, more Jewish families moving to the south end of Winnipeg and elderly parents following them, the long-term need for a seniors centre of that size in the North End is in question.

Gwen Secter's major funder, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, has been working with the centre for nearly two years to find a new location, said Bob Freedman, chief executive officer.

"The bottom line is there will be a Gwen Secter centre -- the question is only where it will be located," said Freedman. It may shift south with the population, he said.

There is still a "significant" number of people over 65 in the North End, and they won't be abandoned, Freedman said.

Gwen Secter will maintain a presence on the north side -- it could be a drop-in centre -- but not anything the size and scope of the current leisure centre on Main Street, he said.

It produces 10,000 kosher meals a year for Winnipeg hospitals and Meals on Wheels. A new home for the centre will have to have a commercial kitchen with that capability, said Freedman.

Marilyn Regiec, executive director at Gwen Secter, said they're hoping they can stay put. The committee charged with finding new digs is looking for someone with deep pockets to help. They've asked Winnipeg developer Sandy Shindleman to buy the building and give it to them, Regiec said.

"It's not something we're considering at this time," Shindleman said Wednesday. "We've got a lot on our plate right now."

Fundraising by the local women's council has made the building's purchases and upgrades possible, Lazar said.

Since 2009, when the NCJWC closed its Winnipeg thrift store, "we have been attempting to rationalize the balance between fundraising and spending," Lazar said.

In the spring of 2012, the NCJWC gave the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre four years' notice they were selling, she said. "We have indicated... that its rent-free status in that building will continue until 2016," Lazar said.

"It's not rent-free," countered Regiec. "We're paying all the operating costs of this building" that add up to $60,000 a year, she said. "It doesn't cost them a penny."

Regiec estimated $200,000 in leasehold improvements have been done to the building that's been appraised at nearly $1 million. "It's been our home for 26 years."

Throughout it, there are small engraved plaques on the walls with the names of the families who donated to create this room and that area. In the foyer, an entire wall has the names of all the donors etched in stone.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

What more can be done to make sure resources, such as this seniors centre, remain in the North End? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2014 B3

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Updated on Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 6:58 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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