A Place for All Seniors

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The Origins of the Kane Center

In 2021, it is difficult to remember the Council on Aging of Martin County without the Charles and Rae Kane Center. The gleaming yellow building with the bright blue roof on Salerno Road has become central to the 47-year-old nonprofit’s identity. For many who were not familiar with the nonprofit before, they may only know it as “the Kane Center.”

Not so very long ago, this mainstay of the community was just the smallest inkling of a dream.


From simple to state of the art
“It goes back to 2003, believe it or not. We were located on 10th Street [in Stuart], and we had an empty lot that we also owned next to the building. There was always a plan to do something with it. We designed a simple senior center with a central courtyard. It became part of the strategic plan from 2003 to 2005.”
That’s Barbara Kauffman. Barbara served as Executive Director, then President and CEO, of the Council on Aging of Martin County from 1996 to 2015. For anyone who knows the history of the Kane Center, her name is synonymous with the building. It was her “brain child.” One recent afternoon, Barbara shared her memories of turning an almost unimaginable dream into a fully functioning and highly successful reality.
“In 2005, something very interesting happened. [The Council on Aging] got a telephone call from the Florida Department of Elder Affairs [DOEA]. They said that State Rep. Joe Negron had asked them to prepare a needs assessment for a second senior center in Martin County.”
That was the moment the simple expanded senior center first conceived in 2003 became an idea for a state-of-the-art facility. The DOEA conducted a population study to determine where the highest concentrations of seniors were living in the county. The study found that the population had migrated from more central parts of the county in Rio and within the Stuart city limits toward the new development that was occurring farther south. It was apparent that resources were needed to better serve seniors closer to where they actually lived. Since the Council on Aging was the county’s Lead Agency on Aging, the DOEA identified it as the local expert and resource for researching the feasibility and scope of a new senior center.
The Council quickly formed an ad hoc committee comprised of the agency’s Board Chair, David Pattinas; its Vice Chair, Bob Raynes; board member Chuck Cleaver; and Barbara. The group met with Rep. Negron to talk about his idea for what this new senior center could be. Rep. Negron referenced a center he had visited in Osceola County that offered a diverse array of services and suggested that this could be a model for the Council to begin brainstorming.
“We got a couple of volunteers and took a trip with Danny Bumpus [the architect for the Osceola center] to look around,” said Barbara. “That visit began to expand our ideas. With Danny we also visited some nursing homes, and we got the idea at that point that we wanted a mixture of social and medical services. That idea was emerging state-wide and nationally with only one center we knew of that was actually accomplishing it. So we wanted to be the second that would accomplish a successful social-medical model.”
A big idea was beginning to emerge, but a central question remained: “Would the center be able to support itself?” What developed was a wholly unique concept. The center would have an expanded adult day center (the Council was the first in the county to establish such a program in 1986) and it would offer some form of primary medical care. It would have its own kitchen to produce Meals on Wheels—and also offer catering services. The center would have an auditorium for social and cultural programming—that could also be rented for private events. One step further, this auditorium could function as a hurricane shelter for seniors who did not qualify for the special needs shelter, but who required more care and attention than could be offered at the regular public shelters.
“During one of the visits to the nursing homes, there was a small ‘town center’ that just adorable. The administrators said that the idea was to help seniors who had moved here from other parts of the country to feel at home. And we thought, ‘Well that also creates a sense of community.’”
A Town Center was added to the plans—the first of its kind in Florida.
The Council officially hired Danny Bumpus and his firm as the architect for the building. Barbara asked Danny to draw the plans in such a way that the building could be built in sections. It was such a monumental undertaking; she couldn’t imagine that the whole project could be completed at once.
“All in”
In May of 2006, Barbara and her team got word that, thanks to the advocacy of Rep. Negron and the Treasure Coast delegation, a $5 million appropriation had been written into the state budget to build a new senior center in Martin County. The steering committee gathered to discuss the momentous news. This dream was going to happen, no doubt. Now, how were they going to get it done? Barbara explained to the group about the phased design plan. 
“I said, ‘These are the parts that we could build. What do you want to do? Where do you want to start? Do you want to do it in stages?’ Bob Raynes [who was now the Board Chair] looked at everybody and—swiping his hand over the plans—he said ‘All in.’ I got chills at that. When he said ‘All in,’ I knew we were on. We were going.”
Honoring Charles and Rae Kane
The way the center got its name is multifaceted. Charles W. Kane, with his wife Rae, had been strong senior advocates at the local, state and national level for decades. After the state appropriation was finalized, Rep. Negron advocated for the center to be named after the Kanes, but for Barbara, the idea of a senior center named after Mr. Kane had been in her mind long before 2006. 
“It involved the first week I was employed by the Council on Aging in 1996. There was a meeting that was held at another senior center in Boca Raton. Charlie Kane caught me in the parking lot. 
He said: ‘Barbara, we have to build a senior center and name it after one of the senators.’ 
‘Charlie it’s my first week, give me a little time.’ 
And he said, ‘Nope, we’ve got to do this right away.’ 
It was hilarious. I said, ‘Well at least let me go to the meeting and see what I’m supposed to be doing in this job.’ 
He laughed and we kind of became acquaintances at that point.”
It was only fitting that when the new senior center in Martin County was finally built, it was named in honor of Charles and Rae Kane.
A place to call home
In 2006, the Council, with the guidance of a commercial real estate firm, identified a property on Salerno Road just east of Kanner Highway. It was well situated to be accessed by the large senior population who had moved to southern parts of the county. And, importantly, it was out of a flood plain, which was essential for the center to function as a hurricane shelter.
When Barbara went for a site visit, she looked around and said, “This is home. It is absolutely home.”The initial plans were drawn. The seed money had been allocated by the state. The name had been decided. The Board of Directors and the staff were “all in.” Property in a prime location had been purchased. The Charles and Rae Kane Center was poised to get off the ground, but the fun had only just begun.The initial plans were drawn. The seed money had been allocated by the state. The name had been decided. The Board of Directors and the staff were “all in.” Property in a prime location had been purchased. The Charles and Rae Kane Center was poised to get off the ground, but the fun had only just begun.

A public-private partnership
“The allocation happened in 2006, and we didn’t break ground until 2009. What happened in between was amazing,” Barbara recalled. In order for the Kane Center to succeed with the social-medical model at the scale that had been planned, the Council needed buy-in from the entire community.“It would be easier for me to list all the people and groups who weren’t involved,” Barbara mused.As she ticked off name after name, it became clear that she wasn’t exaggerating. From the Treasure Coast delegation, to the Martin County Board of County Commissioners, to the county emergency management operations and the Red Cross, to Martin Health, to the chambers of commerce and the Business Development Board, the list went on and on. And that was before listing the Board of Directors, the Council staff, the many private contractors and consultants, the Council’s attorney—David Earle—and of course, the team behind the Capital Campaign, and its many generous donors.
The funding for the Kane Center was a true public-private partnership. In addition to the initial $5 million allocation, two smaller allocations were granted by the State of Florida to fund critical infrastructure projects. In 2007, The Frances Langford Foundation made a game-changing gift with its pledge of $2.5 million to fund the Frances Langford Theater and Auditorium. The support of the Frances Langford Foundation gave the Council the momentum it needed to pique the interest of a larger philanthropic community.“The idea was to start with those who had held the issue of elder care close to their hearts,” said Barbara. “I remember so early on in the process there were people who just said ‘Yes! I’ll support you.’ They really came through.”A visitor to the Kane’s Town Center will see the wall covered with names of individuals and organizations who believed in the grand vision of the Kane Center, and whose support ensured it would come to fruition.

Breaking ground 
The Council officially broke ground on the future site of the Charles and Rae Kane Center in December 2009. As with any construction project, there were challenges. The land parcel had been badly damaged previous to the Council’s purchasing it. Before building could begin, a great deal of work was required to clear debris and restore wetland areas which would allow the property to drain after heavy rains. Slowly but surely, the Kane Center made its way off the ground. 
“It was very important to make it so the outside came into the building,” said Barbara. “We wanted views and ways for seniors not to feel like they’re entering a cave, but really keep that relationship with the outside. So both the Town Center and the Adult Day Club were designed to have clerestories.”
A visitor to the Kane Center will immediately recognize the concerted effort to imbue light and a feeling of openness into the building. Sunlight pours in through the upper windows casting a warm glow throughout the space. The visitor knows implicitly that this is a place for fun and enjoyment.

“When the building was closed, that is the construction phase closed and sealed the building, I had a chance to have Charlie and Rae Kane do a hard-hat walk-through with me,” said Barbara. “Watching their faces, it really paid Charlie and Rae back for all the work they did on behalf of seniors.” 
“They were an adorable couple, just adorable. He was just amazed. I could see his breath was taken away at what was going to be named for him. And Rae was just so excited. We were in a huge building that wasn’t finished yet, but you could finally see where everything was going.”
A new era for senior care
The building finally opened in June of 2011. It was a magnificent canvas for senior services that addressed all aspects of their health and well-being.
“The staff spent an enormous amount of time in 2006 creating the strategic plan of how we would support this enormous building in the future,” said Barbara. “It was the staff who framed the strategic plan that was just so critical in taking us through the first three years of operation. And the staff that made it happen. They were extraordinary.” 
After years of planning, fundraising, engaging the community, wading through regulatory red tape, and overcoming construction hurdles, the final result was beyond expectations.
“It was amazing to see the number of people that came through our doors and the impact the design had on them. Because they felt that this was something for them. It was new. It was fun. It also, clearly, was a fun place for other generations to come. And caregivers to come. It was a joyful place.” 
One of the first initiatives was the organization of the Kane Clinic. Karen Ripper was brought out of retirement after a career at Martin Health Systems to head up the project.
“Karen was the one I begged to join us because nobody had ever succeeded in putting a medical model and a social model together,” Barbara recalled. “Karen was absolutely fantastic. I knew we were OK the minute she said yes.”
By 2012, seniors finally had a place designed specifically for them, where they could access medical and social services in one location. Members of the Adult Day Club could be brought directly to their doctor’s appointments then return to the club to enjoy the rest of their day. Active seniors could enjoy a fitness class or gather for a card game, grab a light lunch from the Kane Bistro, and then drop into the clinic for their flu shot.
“The Kane Center became a place where seniors were connected to their own community, and at the same time never lost connection to the larger community,” said Barbara.
Barbara Kauffman retired in March of 2015. Karen Ripper then took the helm as President and CEO. In talking to Barbara, the memories of the Kane Center experience seemed to flood out of her. One in particular captured the essence of the project in its most visceral form.
“We were bringing the Adult Day Club members for the first time into the new club. Some of them were in wheelchairs, and I was pushing one of them. As we walked in, she turned around a little bit and said to me ‘Whose place is this?’ I don’t know what possessed me, but I said, ‘This is your place. This is for you.’ And she just teared up and said ‘Really?’ It was really something. Because many of these people, really, were alone; or their caregivers were exhausted. And this was something so extraordinary for them. It truly was.”

The Charles & Rae Kane Center, 900 SE Salerno Road, Stuart, FL 34997

Area Agency on Aging

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