With a beaming smile on a Thursday morning, Lee Fass explained the importance of strong, clear lines in drawings. Her two art students listened dutifully while glancing between white computer paper and Fass’s extravagant gestures.
As a former fine art teacher, Fass found a home at Marconi Older Adult Program when she moved to Philadelphia in 1980.
“I was a stay-at-home mom and I wanted to do something else,” said Fass. “I didn’t even know this center existed. They were asking for an art teacher at night. I’m happy I can walk to work, since I live in the neighborhood. It worked out great.”
Fass has several roles as the senior program coordinator but she prefers to teach. She said she took the position only becuase she knew she would still be able to hold her weekly fine art classes. She also directs the program’s theater performance and morning stretches.
“I’ve been coming to this center for about four years,” said Eileen Jimenez, one of Fass’ weekly art students. “She knows many kinds of art and she is really good.”
Jimenez was a teacher herself but in Fass’ art class, she’s more than a student – she’s a sponge. Fass goes over portrait techniques, like where the place the eyes on a portrait, and Jimenez lights up. She said she never learned how to do any of this before she took these classes. Stick figures were her go-to but Fass opened a door for them.
Fass showed them the color wheel and how colors can match or clash. She has them working on self portraits that incorporate aspects of the personality.
It’s more than just teaching from a rubric. Fass wants to use art to help her students explore different parts of who they are.
Marconi Older Adult Program is funded by Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and Caring People Alliance. Marconi provides a wide array of activities from recreation, trips and weekly events to transportation to grocery stores and casinos.
The original Marconi site shut down for eight months in 2013 when the Caring People Alliance sold the building in late June.
“We were fortunate enough to find another location when the self-center closed down,” said Yvonne Divario, secretary at Caring People Alliance. “It was important to reopen as quickly as we could because members really missed coming to the programs and seeing their friends.”
Fass aims to provide an atmosphere where members can participate in activities and help them remain self-sufficient in their older age. There are fine art classes, daily lunches, an exercise room and educational activities.
With a new space to put their programming into action, the Marconi Older Adult Program has been a safe recreational area for adults 50 and older.
Every day at Marconi is different.
“There is no normal day,” said Fass. “You say, ‘This is what my day is going to look like,’ and you open the door and never know what you’ll get. It takes a team. It takes everyone.”
You never know what you’ll walk into at Marconi’s. There are art workshops instructed by Lee, where members can learn how to draw self portraits. Every Thursday, Marconi has karaoke and a session called ‘Remember When,’ which gives members a chance to go down memory lane and discuss things they remember from their lives. Also there is a theater group, which Fass oversees every Tuesday. She helps participants in the group to write their own plays to put on a production for the rest of the members.
This month is National Senior Center Month and Fass has planned more than 10 events for the members to enjoy. Oktoberfest happens later this month. There will be non-alcoholic beer, word games and dancing.
Aside from fun events, Marconi offers members numerous health and social services such as, blood pressure screening, free flu shots, counseling and protective services.
After working at the Marconi Older Adult Program for more then 20 years, Fass still enjoys the environment and the members.
“This is going to sound dorky,” she said, “but I really, truly get enjoyment out of seeing everyone.”
– Text, video and images by Greta Iverson and Christasia Wilson.