COLUMBIA — Martin Andrews was 10 years old the first and only time he saw the ocean. And though 50 years have come and gone since then, his brush strokes bring him back through the swells of memory.
“I loved it there,” Andrews said. “The best part was sitting in the water.”
Andrews paints his ocean and country scenes in an acrylic painting class offered at Paquin Tower. The class is part of the Adaptive Recreation Program, which is paid for by the Department of Parks and Recreation. In addition to painting and ceramics classes, the Adaptive Recreation Program helps Paquin residents get to grocery stores and attractions. The goal is to provide residents, the majority of whom are elderly or have disabilities or forms of limited mobility, ways to enjoy recreation. The program also sponsors monthly trips to Wal-Mart and Aldi — normal bus routes would force residents to cross Business Loop 70 to get to Aldi.
But as the city tightens its belt and prepares to scale back spending, the fate of Paquin’s Adaptive Recreation Program is uncertain at best.
“It is the city manager’s budget and I don’t want to comment, but I will say that it is a tight budget,” Lori Fleming, finance director, said. “It’s a very tight budget.”
City Manager Bill Watkins refused to comment on the budget or its impact on the Paquin Program. But in an e-mail to the City Council, which the Missourian obtained through the Sunshine Law, Watkins said that he had asked Mike Hood, Parks and Recreation director, to let the staff at Paquin know that “it was under strong consideration for elimination.”
Watkins listed several reasons why the Paquin Program may be cut. The program costs the city about $88,000 a year. Watkins said it was expensive, created nearly no revenue and served a limited group of people. He also said that the Housing Authority would not put any money into the program, even though it owns the building and the residents are getting the most use of the recreation programs.
Watkins also wrote about the Department of Parks and Recreation budget concerns.
“Rec Services continues to lose a growing amount of money,” Watkins wrote in the e-mail. “This year we don’t have any money to feed the program and next year with current trends, we come close to running a deficit with Parks sales tax.”
The budget will be released at the end of the month. The council will then have to approve the budget in September.
Lee Radtke, Paquin site manager, said that while she understands the need for a tighter budget, the program does too much good to be cut.
“The Housing Authority’s funds coming from HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) are limited,” Radtke said. “We understand that the city has budget concerns, but this is not just programming. We have residents who produce works of art. They also have a chance to get out and interact with the community.”
Until the fate of the program is decided, those who participate in the Adaptive Recreation Program will do what they’ve always done. They’ll craft. They’ll sculpt. They’ll paint with 99-year-old hands and wrist attachments.
“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t paint. It’d be boring,” Andrews said. “This keeps you going. It gets you out of the apartment and keeps you from watching TV It’s fun to me. For some people it may not be, but it is to me. It’s a way to pass the time, and I do enjoy it.”
George Bonnell, a resident who’s participated for four years, says that developing his skill can sometimes be tough.
“Every once in a while I get aggravated because I can’t do it so good,” said Bonnell. “But I just keep trying to do the best I can. I like it.”
Both Andrews and Bonnell said that they have created at least 30 paintings through the acrylic class. While Andrews said some of his paintings are hanging in the hallways of Paquin, he still has a suitcase full of them in his apartment. Bonnell is in the same boat and keeps his in recycling bags because they are big enough to accommodate the canvases.
Despite all he has learned from the class and the enjoyment he gets from painting, Bonnell said if the class ended his hobby might, too.
“If I had to do it in my apartment, I probably wouldn’t do it,” Bonnell said.
Polly Dunavant, who’s worked at Paquin since it opened in 1973 and teaches the acrylic painting class, said that the program is invaluable to residents. She thinks the council will agree, and the program will continue.
“I think they are going to do everything they possibly can to save as much as they can,” Dunavant said. “City Council will see how wonderful this place is. I have faith that they will find funds for us.”
For now though, Andrews will keep painting purple tints across the sky of his country sunsets, one brush stroke at a time.