The recent firing of Ravenswood Senior Center lifeguard and Aquafit instructor Chris Poe brought several people to Tuesday’s Commission on Aging meeting.

The recent firing of Ravenswood Senior Center lifeguard and Aquafit instructor Chris Poe brought several people to Tuesday’s Commission on Aging meeting.

Poe has worked at the Ravenswood Senior Center since July 2006. Her employment was terminated on September 11, 2009, following an incident with a young man who had been attending the pool based on a doctor’s recommendation.

Poe addressed the Commission on Aging as well as those who attended the meeting to share her version of the incidents. She said the first time she met the young man he hit her on the arm three times, was told by his mother that he didn’t mean any harm, and that a caretaker would be with him while at the pool. Poe said her concern was with the whole group using the pool, and after expressing concern the young man didn’t know his own strength, asked the caretakers not to allow the man to have any physical contact with the others using the pool.

On the day in question, Poe said the mother and two new caretakers were there. She had asked the female caretaker not to allow him to hug or have contact with the seniors using the pool.

However, after he got into the water, Poe said she heard a female patron scream after he grabbed her arm. Though the woman said she was not hurt, but just startled, Poe again asked the caretaker to prevent further physical contact.

Poe again saw the young man hugging another pool client. She said again she approached the caretakers, but the mother overheard and threatened to “call the feds and take her job,” said Poe.

The day Poe was fired, she said she was told an investigation had taken place and people called her “moody,” “a pit bull,” and “non-professional.” She was told to “get out of the senior center and not to come back.”

“It’s been very hard on me for the people who use this pool,” Poe said. “Regardless of what you do to me, I belong to God and He will take care of me.” She then encouraged the Commission to work quickly to establish a regular, five-day-a-week schedule at the pool and to be in better communication with the people of the Ravenswood Senior Center.

Other speakers also addressed the Commission with their concerns and requests regarding the situation. Barbara Shannon asked if any investigation on the part of the Commission was conducted or if they blindly took the recommendation of Gerry Dunbar, director of the Jackson County Commission on Aging. She also raised concerns over the liability issues of allowing others who may have disabilities to share the facilities with senior citizens, and cited another incident in which the man firmly grabbed an elderly woman’s arm and bruised it.

Shannon said the COA needs to be concerned with all the county’s seniors and their health and that more hours need to be established for the Aquafit program.

Curt Atkinson addressed other issues that may have contributed to Poe’s firing, including a tip jar that was established by those who participated in Aquafit regularly to help Poe with expenses since she was traveling from her residence in Parkersburg to Ravenswood each day. Additionally, Poe had taken $10 from the donation jar and put in an IOU because she had left her billfold at home and needed gas for her car. He said her actions are not those of a dishonest person and that it appears she was fired based on “idle gossip.”

“If you’d take the time to talk to her about these things she’d tell you,” Atkinson said. “She has been as true a servant to that pool as anybody you can find.”

He then turned his attention to a notice that had been posted at the Ravenswood Senior Center announcing that Poe was no longer employed there. Atkinson said Poe consulted an attorney regarding the note and was told it was similar to putting up a billboard. He said if the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) would get hold of the sign, the Jackson County Commission on Aging would have a fight on their hands.

Barbara Shuller said she traveled 54 miles round trip daily for seven years to attend the pool.

“Your lack of concern for my well-being and health made me feel like a third-class citizen. If that was your intent, you did a good job,” she said.

On the other side, however, Sue Rice said more regular hours have been established three days a week and on Saturdays and that several people have been coming. “Chris did a good job when she was there,” she said. “But if you’re not going to hire her back, let’s drop it so we can go on with the pool. Chris, if you think anything of us, please drop it.”

Gary Hill, president of the COA Board, said the Commission has every intention of keeping the pool open and finding ways to increase the time it is open. He then asked how many of the people there were still using the pool since Poe left. Nearly all in attendance raised their hands. At the end of the meeting, Hill returned to the issue, saying he sees “no need for action from this board.”

He reiterated the health and safety of those who use the pool is paramount and the board should now emphasize what it can do to facilitate more hours and availability to those who have found it beneficial.

Gene Morgan, board member, further encouraged the board to extend a vote of confidence to the new lifeguard and said if people are coming to the pool it is by their own choice.

Following the meeting, Director Gerry Dunbar said the pool is open to anyone age 18-years and older with a doctor’s recommendation. She added the role of the lifeguard at that pool is to serve all those who use the pool, regardless of their age or disabilities.

In other business, the COA received a letter from James B. Lawrence with the Metro Area Agency on Aging praising the Ripley’s Senior Center meal program. In the letter he called the program “well organized” in its efforts to serve between 180 and 220 meals daily. He said the menus follow standard dietary guidelines. “Seniors in the county have available some of the finest and well maintained facilities in the state,” the letter continued.

The board also had a moment of silence in memory of Kate Ranson and Peg Waldeck, former board members who recently passed away.