Southwest Philadelphia: Senior Center Provides Opportunity to Stay Active, Social
Frances Archer hadn’t seen anything wrong with inviting a few strangers off the street into her home for coffee. On the other hand, her daughter Lillian saw things differently.
“She said, ‘I could have been hurt. I could have been killed,’” Archer said.
The next day, Archer’s daughter registered her at the Southwest Senior Center, she added.
“I’m here all day, every day,” Archer said.
Archer, 84, is just one of the approximately 300 members who take advantage of what the center has to offer. For some, the center provides the opportunity to socialize with their peers. Others can get involved in clubs and activities.
“We find that people who retire, especially today, have lots and lots of energy,” Paulette Cunningham, the center director, said. “They come to volunteer, to add educational experiences to their life, leisure studies, creative arts. It’s just simply a continuation with their life.”
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, seniors, ages 65 and older, account for 14.1 percent of the total population of Philadelphia.
Currently, Philadelphia has 32 senior centers throughout the city that older residents can become members of, but Southwest Senior Center is one of only two located in the Southwest community.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 11,969 residents, ages 65 and older, living in the area.
In the Southwest Philadelphia region alone, 8,000 seniors are not connected with a center, Cunningham said. This is over half of the total population of seniors in the community.
The senior center provides resident with the chance to interact rather than sit at home alone all day.
“It’s helped me because I’m around people,” Will Crawford, a member of the center, said. “I’m not sitting around watching four walls, thinking woe is me.”
Crawford joined the center about a year ago, and enjoys many of the things the center has to offer, including pool, cards, arts and crafts, as well as engaging in conversation about politics and current events with other members, he said.
Those residents that are 60 and older can register for the center, paying a fee of $15 annually to join. Additional charges are added for those interested in using the fitness facility as well as participating in different art and ceramic classes. The fees for the classes range from $2 to $3 per class, or $12 per month.
“This is an oasis,” Linda Marucci, the social worker at the center said. “It’s a place where seniors can come and develop talents that they may have put on hold their whole life, or may not have been aware of.”
Ching Fang Poo, also known as “Joyce,” is the new activity coordinator at the center, and oversees all the activities that are offered at the establishment. She joined the staff of now five members in February.
“Everyday activities include bingo, lunch, painting, poetry, ceramics, line-dancing and exercise,” she said.
The center hosts special events for holidays, as well as outings to the casino and other attractions, Poo said.
Other staff members also get involved in the activities, like Marucci, who coaches a women’s softball league on Mondays and teaches women how to play pool.
“It’s fun because I get to do other things with the seniors,” she said. “I’m having fun too.”
Marucci works with the members on a regular basis addressing any concerns or problems they might have, she said.
Each staff member has a genuine appreciate for the task they come to each day.
“I like this job very much because I can learn from my job,” Poo said. “I can learn a lot from all the seniors.”
Since Poo joined the staff, she has brought 12 members of Asian descent to the center, Cunningham said.
This adds to the already diverse collection of seniors that frequent the center.
“We have people who were born in West Africa, South America, Asia and Europe,” she said. “I believe Southwest Senior Center is unique because of our strength in diversity.”
In order to join the center, seniors are set up with an appointment conducted by Marucci, and each potential member must follow the guidelines of the facility.
According to one of the guidelines, “All potential members are put on a probation period (trial period) for a few weeks while we determine if the center is an appropriate place for them to be.
When a senior first registers, he or she is provided with a collection of papers explaining the guidelines, activities offered, fees involved as well as additional resources beneficial to senior citizens.
Along with the registration fee, the potential member must provide proof of age through proper identification.
Once the paper work is out of the way, many members have found a true place and comfort in coming to the senior center.
“When you come here and start talking to people, you feel good,” Crawford said.