Southwest Philadelphia: Seniors Develop a Lifetime of Friendships
Samiha Moussa hates sitting in front of the television. It would make her head explode if she’d watch it for too long, she said.
Coming to the Southwest Senior Center provides her with an alternative to what many seniors fall victim to.
According to a 2009 study done by Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, the senior population is the top group of television watchers.
Seniors already face many health concerns such as arthritis, cancer and diabetes.
Now the recent AMA study suggests that each hour spent in front of the television daily could be associated with an 11 percent increased risk of death from all causes for seniors. The study also reported a nine percent increased risk of cancer death, and an 18 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related death.
At the Southwest Senior Center, Moussa interacts with people her own age and participates in exercise, dance and art classes, rarely watching the television, she said.
The facilities and activities offered at the center are designed to provide seniors with a healthy, social lifestyle. While members of the center join for an array of reasons, the most common are socialization and friendship.
“They are very good people, very friendly,” Moussa said. “They listen to you with pleasure.”
Moussa immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the 1980s and has traveled throughout much of the country, but she always returns to Philadelphia.
“I love to come back here,” she said. “The people over here are so friendly, believe it or not.”
This friendly demeanor is evident throughout the Southwest Senior Center. The establishment is filled with the buzz of friendly conversation, splashed with pockets of laughter from different groups of friends.
Moussa, who has been coming to the center for four years, is seated at a full table towards the back of the center, cracking sarcastic jokes amongst her friends.
Another member, Edith DiGrazzio, 79, shares Moussa’s sentiments about the center.
“I like [the center] because I have a lot of friends,” she said. “I didn’t have that many friends before. They’re all just real nice to me, and you can’t get that at just any place.”
DiGrazzio started coming to the center over 18 years ago. After hearing about the establishment through a friend, she and her husband at the time decided to go in and see what the establishment was all about, she said.
While she was 58 at the time, her husband was 62, and so they allowed both of them to join, she added.
Robert Bea, 75, is the president of the advisory at the Southwest Senior Center. He has been volunteering and working with the members for 12 years to ensure that any problems they might have are addressed, he said.
“I go from table to table, sit down and talk with them,” he said. “You’ll find out that each and every one has a problem.”
Many times, the problems that the members have are similar, and once they realize they’re not alone, they forget about the problems they were having, he said.
Bea is not the only person who works directly with the residents, developing relationships. Linda Marucci, the social worker at Southwest Senior Center, is constantly addressing the concerns of the residents as well as the Southwest community.
Marucci helps residents within the community, as well as members of the center, apply for food stamps and aids them in filing property taxes, she said.
She also provides interested seniors with information on the facility, she added.
“It’s a great place to come, socialize, have fun, take a class [and] explore,” Marucci said.
People working at the senior center, like Marucci and Bea, also provide friendships and support for the members.
“If I have problems from my home that I can’t handle, like bill problems, [Marucci] will sit down with me and help me deal with it,” Inez Short, a member of the center, said.
Short has been coming to the senior center for almost three years. She first heard about the facility through her health care provider, and started coming for the exercise facility, she said.
After a year of using the exercise equipment, she decided to join, she added.
“I really enjoy the company I’m with [here],” Short said. “That’s the main thing.”
The friendships and opportunities to socialize do not remain just within the walls of the Southwest Senior Center. The facility also participates in regularly mentoring young people in the community, Ted Behr said.
Behr, 80, is a member of the center as well as the publisher for the Southwest Globe Times. He has been coming to the center to use the fitness room for about two years, he said.
“I guess one of the things that I find inspiring is the extent to which they involve senior citizens with young people in the community,” he said. “It gives [seniors] the chance to give back to the community.”
Recently, some of the members and students from Bartram High School worked on a mosaic, which now hangs in the game room of the senior center.
The Southwest Senior Center goes beyond just a facility where seniors can gather and provides more than just activities to occupy the older generation’s time.
“They come here and they meet people,” Marucci said. “They form lasting friendships.”