COLUMBIA — Helen Sherrod pulled her Buddha statue out of the kiln Friday morning. But instead of displaying it on a coffee table or shelf in her house, Sherrod walked with the statue nestled in the crook of her arm, imploring the people she passed to rub the belly for luck.
There’s a good chance they might need it.
Friday afternoon, roughly 30 people jockeyed for whatever shade the picnic area outside Paquin Tower could provide. This was a rally spearheaded by the residents and Bob Pund, a former resident who’s running for the 25th District state representative.
The people were gathered to discuss their concerns over the Department of Parks and Recreation’s proposed budget cuts. The department is considering cutting the Adaptive Recreation programs housed in Paquin.
The programs are open to the public but are geared toward serving the social and fitness needs of the Paquin residents, a majority of whom are elderly or have disabilities.
There are acrylic painting, ceramic and crafts classes, in addition to dinners, and field trips to local attractions and those that lie beyond the city limits — like baseball games and excursions to the Amish country.
As of now, these are just proposed cuts. Even if the department recommends that the recreation programs end, it is still up to City Council to approve the budget in September.
“I don’t want to comment on the budget until it goes before council,” said City Manager Bill Watkins. “The budget isn’t finished yet, and I am not going to comment on what may or may not be in it because it isn’t done yet.”
But it’s the uncertainty that concerns residents. They are hoping quick, proactive work will help keep the recreation programs around for years to come.
“It’s going to be a hard fight, but if we act now, we can save this,” said Pund. “But we have to act now.”
It’s easy to take a look at the department’s Web page and see their activities as “just” classes. But it’s more than that.
It’s the pottery of Helen Sherrod. It’s the paintings of John Fry and Martin Andrews.
“They may just think they’re cutting a pottery class, but it’s more than that,” said Pund. “It’s a reason to get up in the morning.”
It’s also an alternative.
“A lot of folks here at Paquin need to do something outside the apartment for peace of mind,” said Dave Foley. “Their only other options are sitting around watching TV, snacking and chatting with others who are also sad and frustrated. That stuff doesn’t make you well — it makes you worse.”
Ornene Henderson agreed.
“Just sitting here in this building 24/7 will kill somebody,” Henderson said. “We have a life here, and we have a right to live without struggle.”
And it is a firm belief of all who gathered Friday afternoon that life would be a struggle if the Department of Parks and Recreation left Paquin. Whether it is getting people access to stamps or helping them get to the food bank, to Wal-Mart, to an Aldi store, to a Royals games or to dinners at the Heidelberg, the staff that works out of the Paquin Tower office plays a large part in the day-to-day lives of the residents.
“The people who work for Parks and Rec always have a smile for you when you walk in the door,” said resident Karin Davis. “They make this place feel like home.”