The Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment was formed in 1978 by the Chestnut Hill Community Association as a program (then known as the Chestnut Hill Senior Services Center) to provide activities and resources enhancing the wellness, community involvement, and independent living for older residents.
“The mission was to serve the older adults in Chestnut Hill and the mission really remains the same,” said Mary McNeill Zell (pictured above), the executive director of the CHCE. “We’ve expanded so that Chestnut Hill is kind of the epicenter of what we do. Our office is located right in the middle of the retail area. Our membership and our participants come from Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy and so many other neighborhoods in the surrounding area.”
The CHCE offers classes taught by longtime center instructors. There are also workshops instructed by several CHCE members and professionals from the neighborhood.
“We have Spanish classes. We have Italian classes. We have a French conversation group,” said McNeill Zell.
They have monthly community luncheons and outings to cultural and historic places in the region, as well as group activities that are completely participant-directed.
“We are an activities center. We have everything from art classes to yoga sessions, and we take daytrips,” said McNeill Zell. “There is such a wealth of culture and history in Philadelphia and in the neighborhoods around Philadelphia.”
McNeill Zell says the members and other participants of the CHCE are a wonderful group.
“They are always looking for things to do whether its volunteer work or scrabble games or Spanish lessons,” said McNeill Zell. “The members still have active minds and bodies and still have a lot left to give.”
Members of the CHCE are generally retired. However, that doesn’t stop them from fulfilling their hobbies.
“Because they are so busy, retirement is not really what they do,” said McNeill Zell. “They continue to do the volunteer things they always did. We give them some more volunteer opportunities from time to time.”
The CHCE is always looking for new members to join them. The neighborhood newspaper, which is also run by the community association, often runs articles about CHCE’s programs. They also have the their weekly calendar of events posted in the local paper as well.
“Nothing is better than word of mouth,” said McNeill Zell. “People hear about us from friends, relatives and they check us out.”
One of the CHCE’s members, Judith Buten (pictured above), likes to go to the CHCE for some of the classes and activities.
“I’ve been here for French, and once before for Scrabble games,” said Buten. “I think that they do a terrific job here. Mary is very energetic and it seems to go along with all kinds of different things.”
Another member, Rod Bartchy, comes to the CHCE to play Scrabble. He found out through the local newspaper that they have Scrabble games there.
“I play Scrabble online with my brother,” said Bartchy. “I thought it would be fun to play with live people, face-to-face.”
Bartchy also attends movie nights.
“We don’t have something for everybody,” said McNeill Zell. “But if we don’t have it, we try to make it down the line.”
McNeill Zell strives to please everyone and says that if they get suggestions for a trip or new type of workshop or class they try to arrange for it to happen.
She encourages people to come and visit, and says that people can drop in Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It’s just a little microcosm of life,” said McNeill Zell. “That’s what the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment is all about – focusing on people of a certain age. All of them are so interesting in their own right. They bring a lot to us. It’s a two way street around here. We provide something for them and they really give back to us.”
–Text, video and images by Chelsea Titlow and Bob Methlie.