CPGR Senior Center: “Campaign for 200” Is All About Family


Ask anyone at Community Place of Greater Rochester (CPGR) about its Senior Center and you will hear one word repeated over and again: Family. “We are really a family,” says Katy Allen, speaking of the 35 or so seniors who regularly attend the Center each day.  Allen, Director of Aging Services at Community Place, defines what is at the heart of every family when speaking about the bonds that she and her staff form with the seniors:  “We cry with them. We laugh with them. We celebrate with them.” 

Like all families, the members of the Senior Center “family” have their differences. They come from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. They have differing levels of physical capabilities. Some can walk to Community Place every day, while others need transportation to  and from the Center. Those who are frailer, or have memory problems, are assigned one of the 95 volunteer Senior Companions who can help with transportation and assist the seniors in the Center’s activities. “Somehow we make it all work,” states Lisa Bradley, Senior Center Coordinator. “We have our differences, and sometimes our disagreements, but we are truly a family.”

Despite some of these obvious differences, the seniors have at least one thing in common: They live at or below the poverty level. Many would not have a hot meal if not for the Center’s lunch program.  Some would be virtually isolated except for their ability to access the Center. They do not have family--or anyone else--to check on them at home or spend time with them. “This [the Senior program] is the only family some of them have,” says Bradley. “Coming to the Center may be the only contact with others all day.”

CPGR’s Senior Center serves as a welcoming, caring place, providing the things that many of us come to expect from our own families: Social, physical, and emotional support. Social wellness is a key aspect of Center’s programs, and, as Katy Allen observes, social wellness and physical wellness often go hand in hand. Loneliness, isolation and feelings of rejection have real consequences for the elderly in terms of their overall physical well-being.  

Julie [left] found hope and purpose after she started coming to the Senior Center. “I try to come every day,” she said.  “I even got my friend, Shirley, [right] to come.” 
A case in point is Julie’s experience with CPGR senior services.  Julie has had what some would say is a “hard life”—loss of multiple family members, health problems, and, of course, the precariousness of daily living in poverty.  But coming to the Senior Center gave her hope and gave her purpose. She positively lights up when talking about the Center.  “I just love the Center,” Julie says. “We are different people, but family. We laugh and just have good time.” “Penny Bingo” is her “favorite” social activity, she adds with a big smile.

Before coming to the Center, Julie was on home care, and virtually shut in, but she says, “I didn’t want to be on home care.” She found what she needed through the Center’s programs to help her remain independent. “I try to come every day,” she said.  “I even got my friend, Shirley, to come.” 

Julie’s friend Shirley began to enjoy the Center so much that, after a kidney transplant, Shirley came home from the hospital on a Friday and was back at the Center the next week. She admits that it may have been too soon, but her desire to see her friends speaks to the crucial role that the Center plays in its participants’ lives. 

The Senior Center, which is located on the third floor of CPGR on Parsells Avenue, offers a cheerful, safe space for large and small group activities. In addition to a comfortable common area and a small prep kitchen, the Center has a large dining room, illuminated by graceful, round-arched windows—perfect for daily meals, craft projects, games, and cooking classes.

Every Monday and Thursday 40 to 45 seniors willingly bend and stretch their way through exercise classes, specifically designed to help with arthritis and joint issues.  Currently, the Senior Center is fortunate to have a small pot of funds to engage an arthritis-certified exercise instructor. 
Friday is shopping day when the seniors can go to one of the area stores or supermarkets via Medical Motors transport provided by the Center.   

Lisa Bradley tries to plan something special for the seasonal and holiday celebrations, the most recent being to honor Martin Luther King Day. For the Super Bowl-themed party, she planned the fun and games around a matching game using football terms and a ball toss—activities geared towards memory strengthening and dexterity. Bradley goes above and beyond when it comes to putting a smile on the seniors’ faces or in providing them with the caring that they might not otherwise have in their lives. “It’s all about seeing a smile on their faces,” she says.

When two of the participants were in the hospital at the same time, she made up flower and gift baskets for each of them and delivered them in person.  “When any of them become sick, we feel down. The hardest thing is when we lose one of them.” The feelings are mutual.  When Bradley herself had some serious health problems that kept her from work, she also received cards and flowers from many of the seniors.
Unfortunately, the Center is in real danger of decreasing services due to insufficient funding.  Traditional funding has been flat, decreasing or eliminated over the last two decades, leaving Community Place with an annual deficit of $24,000 for its senior services.  Grant money has closed some of this gap, but by April of 2014, the Center will still face a $20,000 budget deficit. 

The funding crisis is real. Without eliminating this deficit, the Center will likely be reduced to being a lunch program only and staff being eliminated completely or cut to part-time. For many of the nearly 360 seniors who access CPGR’s programs and services throughout the year, the loss of these services will likely have serious consequences--putting this low-income, at-risk population in further danger of receiving little or no necessary services.  Given that the cost of one emergency room visit may be comparable to the annual cost for an older adult to attend the Senior Center for one year, and a hospitalization or facility placement would exceed it exponentially, the potential loss of this vital support has significant community implications as well.
CPGR’s Senior Center serves as a welcoming, caring place, providing the things that many of us come to expect from our own families.

Start by being a “200 for $100” donor. Community Place recently launched its ‘Campaign for 200 —200 people each committing to a $100 donation—to keep the senior programs available.  

Director Katy Allen plans to mark campaign progress towards the goal of $20,000 by attaching a ribbon to a photograph--displayed in the Center--of one of the senior participants whenever a pledge is received. The act of donating becomes very real that way: It shows how an elderly person’s life will be affected in a positive way by each donation.

Allen indicates that it is not just about the services currently offered. The Center has other pressing needs as well.  Campaign contributions can help offset the costs of transportation available through Medical Motors, which currently is $72 per round-trip. We no longer can take fun outings, Allen notes, because of the cost of transportation.
The Center now has a big screen TV, but no cable hook-up.  Having cable would enable the Center to show movies, DVDs, and demonstrations for cooking and nutrition, and the like. There are also two computers available, but no one to teach a computer class. “We would like to have someone teach the seniors how to set up email and Facebook accounts,” says Allen, “so they can communicate with family and grandchildren who they are unable to visit. Additionally, if they could pay bills on-line, they would save money and time.”

Funding cuts threaten to eliminate the exercise classes as well. Having a certified arthritis instructor would no longer be affordable.

Sadly, our society does not always recognize the value of its elderly members or their contributions to family and community. Their years of accumulated knowledge are not always viewed as a source of wisdom, but as something to be dismissed or ridiculed. 

Lisa Bradley sees it differently, however. “They have so much to tell us, and we have so much to learn from them.” Bradley knows all too well that seniors deserve to be respected, treated as part of the human community, and surrounded by love.

 â€œI love this job because of the seniors,” she says.  “I just love coming to work every day …. They [the seniors] are jewels. Something special.”  Bradley’s official position may be Coordinator of Services, but she is, in fact, the heart and soul of this family.  Some of the seniors even call her “mama” at times. And it is no wonder. Bradley positively glows when she talks about the Center and what it means to the participants.

At a time when so much of the social and political discourse in our society is about maintaining the viability of families and what family values mean to us, it is fitting that we should be including our elderly population in this discussion.  Just ask anyone in CPGR’s Senior Center, and they will tell you what “family” is really all about!  
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