The building, located at 414 W. 14 St. in Chickamauga, is the current home of the Chickamauga Older American Center and the Chickamauga Nutrition Project, both services that provide socialization, safety and much-needed meals to elderly local residents. In recent years, however, the structure has fallen into disrepair and is sorely in need of renovations.
The ownership of the building has officially been turned over to the city of Chickamauga in hopes that grant funds will be made available to make the renovations, as a request for Department of Community Affairs funds must come from local government.
Walker County commissioner Bebe Heiskell hosted a meeting Jan. 8 between Chickamauga city manager John Culpepper and representatives of the DCA and North Georgia Community Action to discuss how the building can best be utilized by the whole community, and thus what renovations are most needed.
The original American Legion building in Chickamauga was built in the late 1940s by WWII veterans returned from war, and everyone involved would like to see it preserved and put to good use. Currently, the building, now called the Chickamauga Older American Center, services approximately 18-20 area senior citizens on a daily basis through in-house programs that provide meals, activities and excursions in a safe environment. The building also serves as a base of operations for the local Meals on Wheels deliveries, which brings hot meals to the homes of roughly 35 seniors in and around Chickamauga.
In the brainstorming session, local officials and representatives were hopeful that the center, once renovated, can become a more multi-use community center that serves not only seniors, but provides programming for the younger members of the community as well.
In addition to the nutrition programs, it is hoped that the center can provide seniors with an updated exercise room and small computer lab, for which volunteer computer skills teachers are sorely needed. The seniors who currently use the facility have expressed the desire, however, to somehow interact with community youth on a regular basis, and the organization's administrators would like to create programming that would allow local schoolchildren to have an opportunity to come to the center to volunteer, play games and generally socialize with one segment of the community that they might not otherwise much see.
With that in mind, it might be possible to expand the Older American Center facility to have ample room for after-school programming or for local youth organizations to meet safely after-hours. The hope is that a national organization, such as the Boys and Girls Club of America, might be inspired to open a chapter in Walker County should an appropriate facility become available.
“The program being upgraded right now will make it more attractive to everyone,” said Heiskell.
One popular idea is to create a community garden at the facility, which currently has plenty of unused land space available, and use the art of growing one's own food to not only provide nutrition to seniors in need, but to allow able seniors to pass their knowledge of gardening on to a new generation.
The Department of Community Affairs community development block grant that the city is planning to apply for usually totals $500,000 for local projects such as this one, though occasionally, and with enough local partnership, more may be available.
“Maybe this can be a situation that can be a joint application between the city and the county,” said Culpepper.
“With a community development block grant, it must be,” said Heiskell. “We haven't applied for one in about three years -- the last one we did was for sewers -- and it seems that senior programs fare well with community development block funding, so we think this is a good joint effort here.”
The grant will take many months to be decided; in the meantime, anyone with ideas to add to the renovation of the Older American Center is encouraged to contact the facility at (706) 375-2536.