Passers-by often miss the inconspicuous center, which recently was renovated with bright blue awnings and a new sign, but the frequent patrons can't say enough about the simple building that's greatly impacted their lives and become "a home away from home."
Their voices ring with an urgent note as the center's main endowment, established by Florence Riford in the late 1970s, has dwindled to $96,724, while annual operating costs hit $125,000. The city, which owns the center, does not contribute any funds.
Meanwhile, the center needs major repairs. In the lobby, the carpet bubbles and curls, posing a hazard to unsteady patrons. One bathroom is out of order, while another has overflowed, staining the surrounding carpet. The printer in the computer room is acting up and the executive director, Linda Hunt, suspects that it needs to be replaced.
"It's an upward struggle all the time," Hunt said, adding that the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla donated $1,000 to paint the interior, but it didn't fulfill the $2,000 paint bid.
Not surprisingly, the Riford Center relies on donations. Rebuilding Together San Diego has volunteered to paint the interior walls; Starbucks sometimes provides old pastries; the La Jolla Kiwanis and Rotary clubs contribute.
Although the center has needs, all is not dire. Trickling water flows from an ornate fountain on the charming brick-paved outdoor patio, surrounded by sun umbrellas and plastic chairs. A recent $6,000 donation helped fix the air conditioning. Local medical students wait at the door to offer free glucose tests. Vital sign check-ups are offered daily from 8 to 10 a.m. and an attorney donates free legal advice.
Nonetheless, La Jolla is not doing enough to support the center, Hunt said. Many seniors live on fixed incomes; these are not the wealthy La Jollans who exercise at private fitness centers, said Mary Templer, a Riford regular. Patrons of the center mostly hail from La Jolla and Pacific Beach.
"San Diego County assumes that everyone who lives in La Jolla is rich and doesn't need help," Hunt said. "I have a really difficult time securing donations as soon as I mention that the center is in La Jolla."
Templer recalls one member of the exercise class who was only able to contribute a dollar to the teacher's birthday present because she had recently paid her $35 annual membership dues and did not have any more money to give. Likewise, Templer relates that her 900-square-foot home in Bird Rock only cost $48,000 at the time of purchase.
Members worry more about the center's future than its shabbiness, however. Regulars gush about the low-impact aerobics classes, the chair exercises, the yoga, tai chi and line dancing opportunities.
Templer, 59, boasts that the low-impact aerobics and chair classes "is the best thing that's ever happened" in her life. She quit teaching at Poway High School after 35 years because her cardiologist told her she needed to avoid stress. The exercise classes have improved her health more than anything else, Templer said.
Nere Lartitegui arrived in San Diego "in a financial crunch" and was grateful for the free yoga classes.
"When you move your body, you feel different," Lartitegui said. "The blues go away and you feel good about yourself."
Lartitegui also learned computer basics through classes at the center, a skill that she uses daily as she works on the computer for three hours each day.
"When I heard the possibility that the center would close because of a "˜financial crunch,' I said I would like to tell my experience," Lartitegui said.
Countless bridge games also engross members, as 15 to 16 tables of bridge players set up throughout the center. Similarly, one Scrabble game has been going on for 20 years, chuckled Hunt.
Philanthropist Florence Riford established three endowments for the Riford Senior Center in the late 1970s. The center can only draw interest from three of the four funds, however, and the fourth one that can be dipped into has whittled down to $96,724.
Interest from one fund provides approximately $23,000 annually for the center to run a shuttle throughout La Jolla and Pacific Beach to ferry seniors to doctor appointments and the grocery store. Interest from the second fund supports the approximately $11,000 annual operating budget, and interest from the third brings in about $6,000 annually for other expenses, including salaries for the executive director and assistant director.
The center won't shut its doors, though, according to Cathy Hopper, executive director for LiveWell San Diego, formerly the Clairemont Friendship Senior Center. LiveWell San Diego administers the Riford Center.
Without the endowment fund, the executive directors will have to step up fund-raising efforts and seek new endowment funds for the center, Hopper said.
Hopper has also suggested increasing the membership fee from $35 to $50, which is less than $1 per week for members. While some seniors at the center assured Hopper that wouldn't be problematic, others believe that seniors with fixed incomes will not be able to pay.
The center should focus on fund-raising and tightening its budget rather than raising fees, Templer said, especially since the fee just jumped from $25 to $35 this past year.
As contrasted to the Riford Center, members at LiveWell San Diego pay for half of the services that they use, Hopper said. LiveWell San Diego provides far more extensive services than the classes, legal advice and social arena provided by the Riford Center however, including an adult day-care program, group activities, arts and crafts, home-delivered lunches and hot lunches.
For more information about the Florence Riford Adult Center, call (858) 459-0831 or visit www.cfsc-sd.org/Riford/index.htm.