SARANAC LAKE - The new director of the Saranac Lake Adult Center says she hopes to calm some of the turmoil that's surrounded the center since the firing of her predecessor earlier this month.
Jennifer Grisi, currently director of admissions at Saranac Village at Will Rogers, has been hired by the Franklin County Association of Senior Citizens, the nonprofit group that pays the directors of all eight adult centers in the county and runs their nutrition programs. Grisi will start work at the Saranac Lake Adult Center Dec. 10.
"She came highly recommended from Will Rogers, by its executive director Jamie Whidden," association Executive Director Susan Schrader told the Enterprise Tuesday. "She was a creative force there and helped start the Will Rogers Senior Outing Club. She helped many seniors overcome obstacles in their lives so they could get the services they need. She will be a huge asset to the adult center."
Grisi fills the vacancy created by the association's firing of Gina Norton, who had been director of the adult center for roughly two years. Neither Schrader nor anyone else from the association has said publicly why Norton was terminated, calling it a personnel issue.
Adult center board members and others have told the Enterprise that it had to do with record-keeping discrepancies over meal payments, although some seniors who frequent the center have said they believe there's more to it than that.
Norton's sudden and unexplained termination on Nov. 3 sparked anger and frustration among many of the center's seniors, who praised Norton for her efforts to enhance services and bring more seniors into the adult center. A group of more than two dozen seniors showed up at an adult center board meeting less than a week after Norton's firing, demanding answers from the association representatives who were there and calling for her reinstatement. Some said they were so disgruntled that they would stop coming to the center.
Schrader said she hopes the hiring of Grisi will allow the center to move forward. She noted that four adult center board members were invited to take part in interviewing prospective candidates. Ten people applied, and eight were granted interviews, she said.
"Because of the problems we had there, we felt it was necessary that the Saranac Lake Adult Center had input into who they wanted as a director," Schrader said. "We had four of the board of directors from Saranac Lake in on the interview, and it was 100 percent for Jennifer. I'm confident people will welcome her with open arms."
Adult center board President Deborah Donaldson, who participated in the interviews, said she thinks Grisi will do a good job, but she believes there will continue to be repercussions over the firing of Norton.
"(Grisi) was the best qualified of the ones that were interviewed," Donaldson said. "But it's not over yet. There's quite a few of the seniors that haven't come back. There's a couple that have. I tried to explain to people that if we don't stick together, the only people that will hurt are the seniors. We need to convince them that nothing has really changed, and they need to come and participate in the center."
Grisi, who has worked at Will Rogers for the past six years, said she applied for the job because she wanted to get back to working with seniors on a day-to-day basis, something she hasn't been able to do as much in her last two years as admissions director at Will Rogers.
"Moving into this position took me further away from the residents," Grisi said. "I really was beginning to miss that I wasn't seeing our residents as much anymore, and that's about when the director position came up."
Asked how she'll run the center, Grisi talked about her experience in activities programming and said she hopes to expand the center's program schedule. She also said she wants to see what works at the center now and what can be improved before she makes any changes.
As for the recent turmoil, Grisi said she's optimistic that things will settle down and that she'll be able to lead the center effectively.
"I'm sure there's been healing already, and the dust has been settling, and I mean that in a good and positive way," she said. "I'm going to do everything I can to reach out to the parties involved. The main goal is to have a vibrant and active community adult center, and to have it so that it can last, and to work within the guidelines of what the adult centers are asked to do. That's my goal."
Grisi's publicly funded annual salary will be $24,000, Schrader said.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.