New OPC chairman says problems are over

Oakland Township Supervisor Terry Gonser, OPC Executive Director Marye Miller and OPC board chairman Dr. Pierre Atallah.

The new chairman of the Rochester Older Persons Commission governing board says the difficulties of the past few years are over.

Pierre Atallah, a Rochester cardiologist and Oakland Township resident, was recently appointed by the Oakland Township Board of Trustees to serve on the OPC board. He also serves on the Rochester Downtown Development Authority Board and said he was elected OPC chairman as a compromise candidate.

Over the last few years, tension has developed between the OPC board and Rochester City Council over financial matters. That led to tension between Rochester and the other two municipalities served by the OPC, Oakland Township and Rochester Hills.

“It’s over; it’s gone,” Atallah said last week. “The board right now is in charge. … It’ll be a different approach.”

The governing board is made up of representatives of the three communities. Some are elected officials of those communities; others are appointed to represent each community. In addition to Atallah, the board consists of vice chairman John Dalton of Rochester Hills, secretary Lucy Strand of Rochester, treasurer Ravi Yalamanchi of Rochester Hills, Oakland Township Supervisor Terry Gonser, Rochester Mayor Stuart Bikson, Micheline Sommers of Rochester Hills and Rochester Hills Councilman Michael Webber.

In his new role, Atallah has emerged as a major cheerleader for the OPC.  He said he had heard about the OPC from his patients, but “To see how impressive they are, to look at the statistics; those facts I’m not sure are known to the people,” he said. “I think the world should know this is a model.”

Atallah said part of his mission will be to spread the word, and he started by speaking to a standing-room-only crowd in the OPC auditorium Feb. 12.

“I think (OPC) is something you should be proud of and support and maintain,” he said. “As chairman of the board, my promise to all of you is to try and continue that and improve it and let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.”

Now in its 30th year as a stand-alone organization, the OPC will celebrate the milestone March 20 with an all-day celebration including an open house, refreshments, free bus rides, raffle tickets and other activities. The OPC is planning to ask Rochester City Council to proclaim Oct. 16 annually as Heart Day, which would then become the permanent day to celebrate the anniversary of OPC as the “heart of the community.”

Parking is a problem at the OPC, but Atallah delivered some good news on that front: The governing board has awarded a bid to an architectural firm to design a parking structure that will add about 100 new parking spaces in about a year. “This is going to be a huge plus,” he said.

In his remarks, Atallah explained how the OPC is funded. “Two-thirds of the revenue of the OPC comes from the work of the OPC; it’s not just the taxes,” he said. He put administrative costs at 35 percent, which he said compares favorably to the business sector.  “So 35 percent is clearly a job well done, and tightly done,” he said.

He said he has been impressed with the knowledge and professionalism of the OPC staff and programs such as Meals on Wheels and transportation.  The minibus program “is really the lifeline of folks around here. I’ve visited a lot of the world, and it’s really amazing how we don’t have transportation in southeast Michigan,” he said. “Without OPC, I don’t know how will seniors come to visit me in my office. And the fees are so reasonable, it’s shocking.”

The transportation program logs 332,000 miles per year. The nutrition program serves over 100,000 meals per year, including Meals on Wheels for homebound seniors. The kitchen is open seven days a week.

In addition to specific programs, Atallah said the OPC helps seniors combat a serious problem of that age group–social isolation. More than 2,000 volunteers contribute over 42,000 hours per year to the OPC, a number Atallah called “staggering.”

Atallah told the gathered seniors that they can expect to be asked their opinion on OPC matters. “People tell me you have a lot to say, and I want to hear from you,” he said. “We’re here to serve you, and nothing else.”

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