Port Richmond: Senior Citizens Showcase Their Inner Artists And More

Port Richmond: Senior Citizens Showcase Their Inner Artists And More
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Friday afternoons at St. Anne’s Senior Community Center are never a bore. The weekly Clay Creations class, taught by Anne Koszalka, highlights many seniors’ weeks and gives them something to look forward to on Fridays.

“About eight years ago, a fellow ceramic artist, who has been teaching at senior centers for years, needed a few teachers to work at a variety of senior centers,” said Koszalka. “It was a two month thing funded by PECO. Afterwards, there was a group show with the students’ work. Anyway, he asked me to be part of it. I have become very close to my students. They feel like family to me.”

St. Anne’s is one of many centers that cater to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to the center’s flyer, approximately two-out-of-three seniors who qualify to receive SNAP don’t pursue these benefits. There is no membership fee to join. The center serves citizens 60 years of age and older, but all citizens over the age of 50 are invited to visit.

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Citizens ages 60 and above who live alone, can be eligible for SNAP. According to St. Anne’s, if those citizens receive a monthly income of less than $1916, they are eligible. All citizens who receive more than that per month can still receive some compensation such as medical and living expenses may qualify seniors for SNAP.

Programs at St. Anne’s are still offered to others who do not qualify for SNAP. During the 2014 fiscal year the center served 532 seniors through its various programs, activities, and outreach projects. The center served 15,851 meals (including breakfast and lunch). Seniors logged in 3,883 volunteer hours in community service, which includes seniors volunteering at Greensgrow Urban Farm.

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St. Anne’s also offers a lot of different alternatives to keep the center young at heart and cater to the member’s interests. There are an abundance of activities offered for those interested in classes such as the arts.

“The arts are an integral part of the program at St. Anne’s. Participants can learn how to knit, crochet, make jewelry and attend special craft workshops. [They can] experience the art of painting in the Color Wheel class on Tuesdays at 12:30pm and on Friday afternoon join Clay Creations and learn the hand building technique to create clay pots, forms and sculptures,” said Senior Center Manager Karen Rouse.

Many of the members involved in the arts have grown a certain fondness for the classes.

The Color Wheel class on Tuesday afternoons is taught by Michael Secor. His involvement with the center started thanks to one of the senior members.

“There is an interesting story to how I came to know about the center,” said Secor. “I leave a few of my paintings at a time outside of my house for people to see and, if they like what they see, for people to take with them. One of the senior women lives just a few doors down from me on Letterly Street, and had taken a couple of my paintings to the senior center to have them hung up. A friend of mine, Scott, who also volunteers from time-to-time at the center, recognized my paintings and put me in contact with Karen at St Anne’s with the thought that there might be an interest in painting classes for the seniors.”

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St. Anne’s is one-of-four senior centers in the greater Philadelphia area that offer these types of programs. They all fall under the Catholic Health Care Services (CHCS) umbrella. Their motto is, “Caring for seniors every step of the way,” and that’s exactly what these centers do day-to-day.

“Often older adults in the community do not see themselves as a senior citizen and resist attending a center,” said Rouse. “The community may have a perception that a senior center is for old people, or think it is a nursing home residence or adult daycare center. We work hard to improve the image of the center and present an active place for positive aging, wellness programs and opportunities for lifelong learning and civic engagement.”

St. Anne’s seeks to serve the most vulnerable of seniors. The breakdown of seniors at St. Anne’s is as follows: 31 percent low income, 68 percent over the age of 70 and 10 percent over the age of 85. The center is a life line for many. All of this can’t be accomplished without the help of all the volunteers and workers.

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“I love teaching seniors, many of whom never did art before,” said Koszalka. “They are all talented despite their experience. It’s just some guidance that they need. And I love being that person.”

“I really enjoy the employees at St Anne’s,” said Secor. “They are all incredibly friendly, as it must take such a person to work in their profession. It is an environment where everyone is helpful, energetic, and good natured.”

In June 2014, St. Anne’s became accredited by the National Institute of Senior Centers. The goal of the center is to help citizens discover, play, challenge and create through their programs.

The center is currently funded by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, CHCS and through independent fundraising efforts, the center continues operations five days a week and engages with community partners as a vibrant, multi-purpose center in the neighborhood.

If you’re interested in their upcoming events, you can visit their calendar here.

– Text, video and images by Michael Zahn.

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