Kensington: St. Anne’s Senior Center Makes Lengthening Life Span a Priority

Volunteers help serve the meal of the day which is funded through Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

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A group of Polish members enjoy playing games in the back room which also has exercise bikes and computers.
A group of Polish members enjoy playing games in the back room, which also has exercise bikes and computers.

St. Anne’s Senior Citizen Center, an organization which has provided locals with activities and services for more than 30 years, strives to promote wellness and health programs to keep seniors part of the community longer.

“While the centers for a long time have had health promotion and exercise programs, we are really focusing on wellness and healthy aging and keeping people as independent as possible,” Karen Becker, the center’s interim coordinator, said. “That’s been a major addition for us in the last couple of months.”

To fulfill this goal, St. Anne’s encourages daily movements by offering a different program each day. Since the beginning of the month, the center added a line dancing class on Fridays. In addition, low impact aerobics is offered three times a week and Tai Chi, taught by Cathy Layland, is offered once a week.

To incorporate healthy eating, St. Anne’s offers daily meals, which meet at least one-third of the United States Department of Agriculture’s standard for nutrition. Members are able to receive the hot meal or the alternative cold meal for a suggested donation of $1.

“We do not deny anyone service if they are not able to make that contribution,” Becker, who has worked at Catholic Services for over 30 years, said.

Giving members a well-balanced meal is only one way nutrition is incorporated into the services. St. Anne’s also offers nutrition education classes, has nutrition bingo, health screenings, presentations by partners such as Aria Health and visits from specialized doctors.

Karen Becker, the center's coordinator, has been working at St.Anne's since July 2012.
Karen Becker, the center’s coordinator, has been working at St.Anne’s since July.

“They’re aging healthier and they’re happier and I think that we’re helping them stay in the community longer,” Becker said.

With funding from the Catholic Charities Appeal, Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, St. Anne’s allows members to join and partake in the services for free. The only requirement is members must be at least 60 years old.

“The mission of Philadelphia Corporation for Aging is to improve the quality of life for older Philadelphians or people with disabilities and to assist them in achieving their maximum level of health, independence and productivity,” according to their website.

The center, located at 2607 E. Cumberland St., gives members from Port Richmond, Fishtown and Kensington easy access to the facility. If seniors are unable to drive or take a bus, van transportation is available.

One of the members, Susan Bader-Desparios, who is able to walk to the center, comes to St. Anne’s three to four days per week.

“One, I’m legally blind. Two, I don’t have either big toe and I just had my left breast removed,” Desparios shared. “So it keeps me going by getting out of the house and coming over and being around people. Otherwise, I’d be so depressed being home that I wouldn’t do nothing.”

Desparios, like many others, said she believes St. Anne’s gives her motivation to add something to her agenda.

“The atmosphere is very very nice and I get along with everybody,” June Mills, 85, said. “It gets me out of the house instead of being stuck in all day.”

Susan Bader-Desparios (left) and June Mills enjoy playing card games together.
Susan Bader-Desparios (left) and June Mills enjoy playing card games together.

During their downtime, members have a lot of options for entertainment. Playing cards or pool, working out on the exercise bikes or watching movies on the flat screen TV they recently had delivered are just a few. To raise money for the center, they are currently selling hand-made knitted ruffled scarves, which were made during arts and crafts.

With a mixture of members including a large Polish-speaking population, the center gives people an opportunity to not only make friends, but also share their life experiences with one another.

Agnes Theurer,  77, who has been married four times, is now happily in a relationship with someone she has met at a bar. When she’s not with him, she spends time with her friends at the center.

Another member, 88-year-old Catherine Campbell, has been living in the neighborhood for 65 years. A decision she made eight years ago changed her life forever.

“It was something to try out. It took me a while to make up my mind to come over and once I got here, I enjoyed it,” Campbell said. “It gets me out of the house and meeting people and doing something for the day.”

While Campbell volunteers by helping put together the monthly newsletter, Chatterbox, her friend, Mary Murphy, volunteers by serving breakfast in the morning.

“I like all the activities that they have,” Murphy, who has been coming to the center since 2006, said.

Volunteers help serve the meal of the day which is funded through Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
Volunteers help serve the meal of the day, which is funded through Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

The volunteer program allows members to give back in a non-monetary way by serving coffee, preparing lunch and calling bingo among other opportunities.

“It’s sort of a partnership,” Becker explained. “They work just as hard to keep this place open and running and providing quality programs as we do.”

The 100-plus volunteers not only consist of members, but also parishes and churches, groups who help clean and paint the center and student volunteers.

“We can always use more volunteers because there’s a lot to do here,” Becker added.

St. Anne’s Senior Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The upcoming trips include Philadelphia Parx Casino, Neshaminy Mall and the Philadelphia Flower Show.

“If individuals have other people to see every day and a reason to be up and socializing with others, it brightens their day,” Becker said. “If we’re happier and any person feels happier and appreciated…I think we’re a healthier program.”

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