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Recession Trends
Free services sought during hard times
3 Recession Trends pic2
Marcella Nichelson works on a painting recently at the Dawson County Senior Center. - photo by Frank Reddy Dawson Community News

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention.


While activities like reading, browsing the Internet and attending educational classes are far from necessities, an economic recession won’t stop Dawson County residents from enjoying them.


In fact, it may just encourage them to find ways to do so for free.


Coordinator Rachelle Thurmond said those who visit the local senior center “are already living on a fixed income, and with the recession and with prices increasing, they have even less disposable income.”


Thurmond said attendance at the senior center has increased by about 40 percent since the recession.


Also popular is the center’s meal program, which is made possible through annual grants.


In February, the center served 631 meals, with another 2,134 meals delivered to seniors.


All activities at the center — including exercise and educational courses — are free or inexpensive, Thurmond said.


“Seniors are looking for activities and things to do at low or no cost to them, and that has increased our participation,” she said.


“If the recession has any positive aspect to it, it’s that it’s forced people to find things that are out there that they didn’t know existed.”


Kevin Tanner, county manager, said residents are seeking out government services more than usual.


“With these difficult economic times, these needs have increased,” Tanner said. “We have seen a rising necessity for the services we provide and our goal is to meet each and every one of these needs.”


Stacey Leonhardt, branch manager of the library, said more residents are flocking to the library.


Many have discovered that items for which they used to pay to own are available to borrow for free at the library.


“It’s almost a daily statement,” she said. “We’ll hear people say they’ve cut off their Internet service to save money, and they’re using computers here at the library to check e-mails and look for jobs.”


Internet use at the library is up 24 percent from 2008-09, according to Leonhardt.


In addition, more than half of the county’s residents hold a library card. The branch saw a 10 percent increase in visits from the year before, she said.


Brandie Broad visited the library on a recent afternoon to use a computer. The services, she said are “fantastic.”


“There’s a big economic crisis,” she said. “Some luxuries you lose. A lot of times, it’s the Internet that’s first to go.”


A local real estate expert who addressed officials last month spoke of overall changes in consumer buying patterns.


Frank Norton Jr., president of Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm, said consumers are “going to be much more conservative.”


“We are going to think about all those things, those crazy things we spent money on in 2004, ’5 and ’6.”


If you ask Leonhardt, consumers are dropping the not-so-crazy expenses too.


“We have several people who have cut out their cable or satellite, just borrowing DVDs and movies,” she said.


“It’s interesting. It’s almost changed the comfort level, where they can say, ‘Hey, we’re proud of how we’re cutting our budget. We don’t pay for Internet. We don’t buy books.’ It’s changed the way people feel about cutting costs.”


Jennifer Sami of the DCN regional staff contributed to this report.