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Wendy Reuer, Published August 13 2011

Couple trying to save Lidgerwood Senior Citizens Center

LIDGERWOOD, N.D. – When Sam and Brandi French moved to town, they planned to start a business, but not a nonprofit at the same time.

In April 2010, the Frenches bought the store Warbird 1 Stop. This year, they founded Caring Hands of North Dakota Inc., a nonprofit organization meant to help anyone in need when all other channels have been exhausted. Caring Hands’ first project will be helping the Lidgerwood Senior Citizens Center back to life.

Sam French said he was approached by a local senior who came to him in tears, asking the couple to help save the building after the city declared it could not afford to repair or keep it.

The building – the city’s former depot built circa 1907 – will need a new roof. The west half of the building is in disrepair after water damage weakened part of the floor. Tiles have begun to peel, and two of four bathrooms are completely unusable.

Half of the building remains in use, where senior food services are offered and it is open three days a week for seniors to visit, play cards, work on puzzles and socialize.

“I’d like to see it stay. I’d like to see it get life. The future of that place is important to the community,” said Shelby Dallmann, a longtime Lidgerwood resident and businessman.

Dallmann said 16 to 20 meals per day are served from the senior center kitchen, three days a week.

“Some (meals) are delivered, some are picked up, some we eat here,” said Norma Honl, president of the Senior Friendship Club.

Honl said seniors will have no place else to go if the building is not saved.

The Frenches said they would repair the building and expand the bathrooms. It could then be open for events such as dances and rummage sales, often held there in the past.

At a February community meeting, the city agreed it would sell the building to Caring Hands with the conditions the building remain a senior center and Caring Hands obtains nonprofit status in the next year.

Caring Hands Inc. is still waiting on 501(c) 3 approval from the federal government.

Mayor Steve Oddo said the sale is based on Caring Hands obtaining nonprofit status because that will show the organization can fund the building repairs and operation.

“So if I sold it to them without them having a 501(c) 3, all I would be doing is selling it to another organization that does not have enough money to keep it running,” Oddo said. “Personally, (I think) to put $40,000 or $50,000 into a building that is not worth $5,000 is crazy. But if they want to do it because there is a portion of the population that believes it is a historical building, then the city will support it.”

However, the Frenches said they cannot buy the building until they do the repairs because it is not insurable as it stands.

The city has estimated repairs to cost around $40,000.

Sam French said the city denied his request to start repairs using volunteers.

“The city would have no responsibility. No financial impact to them whatsoever,” Brandi French said. “Right now the city is telling Sam and I and Caring Hands, no. They’re kind of giving you the impression they don’t care about the seniors.”

Oddo said that is not the case. The reason the city denied allowing the repairs to begin is because Caring Hands has not demonstrated it has the means needed to start such a large project.

“Before we let anybody in there to make repairs, we want to make sure they can finish them. It’s not a matter of the liability or getting a crew together, it’s giving the city some insurance that you can finish what you start,” Oddo said.

Sam French said Caring Hands will continue to raise money while they wait for the nonprofit status.

Eventually Caring Hands hopes to start a maintenance fund to cover estimated $2,000 per year in operation costs.

“Ideally there would be some sort of fund set up to financially support the building,” Brandi said.

Sam French said the Senior Friendship Club has already raised $1,500 and a fundraising lunch is planned.

“We’re still a long way from our goal … a long way. But, every little bit helps right now,” he said. “We’re just not going to let the building go away, it’s just not right.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530