After eight months in limbo, older adults have regained their verve at a new site.
Jennie DiGiandomenico bore a radiant smile Monday morning as she fraternized with friends during a nutrition workshop at the Marconi Older Adult Program, 2433 S. 15th St. The ladies delighted in having the chance to chat, a custom they had enjoyed at their former haunt, the Samuel S. Fels South Philadelphia Community Center, 2407 S. Broad St.
The group had been left stranded without a gathering place to call their home away from home as the Caring People Alliance sold the latter building in late June to the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School, 2600 S. Broad St., for $1.7 million to counter a debt dilemma. Through an agreement with St. Monica parish, 17th and Ritner streets, they have spent the last two weeks reconnecting and expecting new experiences.
“For us, it’s like having a place to call home again,” DiGiandomenico, of the 2400 block of South Opal Street, said of the 42-year-old facility that became their secondary abode March 6. “We all tried other locations after the closing, but camaraderie and comfort were lacking.”
The Girard Estate resident had attended Fels for five years before its repurposing as an educational institution for kindergarteners through fifth-graders. Her prior spot had suffered severe financial burdens for years, with Caring People needing to subsidize offerings through its other locations’ returns. Minus the 43,000-square-foot haven’s amenities, DiGiandomenico and her peers tried finding solace at Center City’s Philadelphia Senior Center; the South Philadelphia Older Adult Center, 1430 E. Passyunk Ave.; the St. Charles Senior Center, 1941 Christian St.; and the Tolentine Community Center, 1025-33 Mifflin St.
When Shawna Lisa, who headed the older adult programming at Fels, learned late last month of the endowment of a Licenses & Inspections-issued Certificate of Occupancy, she found herself thrilled to be able to reunite with the affable attendees.
“I’m so happy our members again can explore real friendships, relationships and services,” the senior project director and resident of the 900 block of Dudley Street said as three such figures used treadmills. “We knew with our hiatus that some of them might moan and groan and adopt a sour attitude, but we have not heard any griping, as everyone is ecstatic about resuming.”
Following the Fels matter, the East Passyunk Crossing dweller assisted with painting and scrubbing the new destination, which her employer has been renting from St. Monica, which had used it as a day care, to aid afterschool pupils from PPACS; Abraham S. Jenks Academic Plus, 2501 S. 13th St.; and St. Pio Regional Catholic School, 1826 Pollock St. Making the space wheelchair accessible, giving the fitness equipment professional checkups and changing the tiny toilets and sinks also factored into the refashioning process.
“It’s been a true labor of love,” Caring People President and CEO Arlene Bell, who interacted with nearly 90 participants on the inaugural day, said. “For our members, it’s all about sustaining social bonds. We knew how much they missed one another; therefore, we’re happy to have them back and are gearing up to give them the best slate of options. The way I see it, relationships will continue to blossom as our identity as a center grows.”
The program’s mission statement aims to have workers provide a “full and active life for members, enjoyable recreational and educational activities, an opportunity for friendships to grow and deepen, a support system for members with special needs and assistance to other organizations with similar goals for the betterment of all older adults.” With 16,000 square feet to accomplish those quests, they have loaded their schedule with such helpers as arts and crafts workshops, clubs, lectures, line dancing, trips, Wii games and zumba and connect members with numerous social services, including the low income home energy assistance program and the Caring Paws Visiting Pet program.
“Our fitness area has already proven to be a big draw,” Lisa said. “Just like at Fels, they are also attracted to billiards and board games.”
Having received its funding from the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging March 1, the program has begun to reach out to those sites that served its members during the interim to reestablish its population of approximately 750 members. Lisa noted that has gone well and looks forward to welcoming more individuals no matter their interests.
“We’re confident we have something for everyone,” she said. “The best part is that if someone walks in today and desires to join, we could have him or her experiencing time here right away.”
That all aspects came together so quickly and efficiently impressed DiGiandomenico.
“I’ll come two or three times a week because I really enjoy the exercise, the social programs, trips, shows, mural tours, whatever,” the enthused registrant, who also bulks up her civic identity through participation in the South Philadelphia Lions Club, said. “For [the suggested price of] $25 a year, $50 for the fitness room, where are you going to go to find all that?”
As senior program coordinator Lee Fass led her and her companions in designing a spinach salad with clementines, cranberry raisins, goat cheese and walnuts as part of the fruit and vegetable of the month presentation, DiGiandomenico also noted how pleased she is the new two-story site likely will follow its predecessor as an intoxicating place for residents within and beyond the confines of South Philly.
“We like to think of ourselves as a microcosm of the world,” Lisa said, adding the benefits of interaction between children and adults under her roof.
Meals mark key components of breaking bread at the facility, which has taken on the same name that referred to one element of Fels’ multi-faceted outreach. As the weather becomes more enticing, Lisa hopes to welcome more enrollees to engage in fellowship and, as part of Older Adult Month, will gather the gang for an official grand opening May 18 in the site’s spacious yard.
“We’ve retained most of our Fels offerings, with swimming as a big exception, and we’re coming along fine,” Lisa said. “Older adults drive communities, and we’re happy to sustain their liveliness and receive some from them, too.”
For more information, call 215-218-0800.
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
Whitman Branch: Storytime Arts and Crafts 4 p.m. June 16; LEGO Club 3:30 p.m. June 17; Science Wednesdays 4 p.m. and Yoga for Kids 5:30 p.m. and adults 6:30 p.m. June 18. 200 Snyder Ave. 215-685-1754.