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They come with slow but steady steps, or by wheelchair, walker, or sometimes on the arm of a caregiver to take a place at dining room tables at Shirley’s Adult Day Center.

They come, with anticipatory smiles, because it’s time for lunch.

Christina Tsitrian not only cooks for more than 30 clients and nearly 20 employees at the center, but she also serves the noontime repast with accompanying music, a simple a cappella tune, something like “You are my Sunshine,” said day center floor manager Jayne Thompson.

That’s part of the personal touch Shirley’s Adult Day Center is charged to provide for those placed in their care, mostly the elderly suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, physical handicaps, Parkinson’s Disease or Autism spectrum disorders.

“We are the best-kept secret in town,” said Thompson, “But we’re working hard to change that.”

The center opened at 4110 Winfield St. in south Rapid City a few months ago, taking the place of another adult day care facility operated in the same location by Western Resources for Independent Living.

Western Resources continues to offer independent living services for the elderly and disabled through offices in Rapid City, Spearfish and Pierre, but when WRIL announced in early October plans to close its adult day care centers, citing financial reasons, a group of individuals formed a limited liability corporation and began working toward taking over those services.

Shirley’s opened on Oct. 28. Another WRIL adult day center in Spearfish remains closed.

Namesake of the center is CEO Shirley Allen, who brings 35 years of experience in the disability field, including 20 years working with adult services.

Betty Bowers, a business owner, retired school administrator and long-term caregiver for her husband, serves as board president.

“Both of us have a passion for what we’re doing, the adult services,” said Bowers. “I have it from the viewpoint of a caretaker who had a husband with a traumatic brain injury. He needed significant assistance, and I needed assistance.”

The center currently serves between 30 and 35 clients (Bowers and Allen prefer to call them guests), in the former WRIL facility, now owned and leased from the neighboring Morningstar Assisted Living Center.

Nearly 30 donors, families and local businesses, chipped in with monetary or in-kind services to ease the transition, Bowers said. Volunteers are still being sought, and fundraising, including a benefit pancake supper last week, continues.

The building remains unmarked, with signage along Minnesota Street still referencing its former ownership by WRIL. A white passenger van parked in front still shows faint outlines of the former WRIL signage on the sides of the vehicle.

“We’d love a big sign, but we’re just not going to get into that big of a financial thing,” Allen said.

The emphasis for Allen and Bowers and the other 14 board members, is to establish the day center as a nonprofit. An extensive permitting process has been completed with an application for federal tax-exempt status filed and awaiting review, Bowers said.

“We’re considered private until we get that non-profit (designation),”Bowers said.

The center’s 18 full- and part-time employees include a registered nurse and licensed practical nurse. A licensed hairdresser is also available.

Services for guests include personal and hygiene care (a full handicapped-accessible and walk-in shower is available) education, memory/cognitive care, exercise and mobility, nutrition and recreation.

The center charges $17 per hour and $4.50 a meal, and 40 cents per mile transportation costs for each guest, most of whom come from Rapid City, Black Hawk and Box Elder.

The center accepts private pay, long-term care and other insurance, Medicaid, Veteran’s Administration assistance. About 60 percent of guests are veterans, Allen said.

Overnight and weekend respite care is available and a caregiver support group also meets once a month.

Most important for those coming to the center, Allen said, is the chance to socialize, and a chance for caretakers to get a break.

“We just want to be that place for the caregivers to get the relief they need,” she said.

The center can legally take 70 guests, but plans are to limit that number to 50, with a look at expansion or moving to a larger facility once that number is reached.

“The biggest thing we want to get out is there is another nonprofit taking over an existing program that helps the elderly,” Bowers said.

“We don’t want to think of this as a business as much we think of it as a home away from home. We want to be the extension of their family,” she said.

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