Emma Sanchez (left) and Jennine Tracey play a round of bingo at the St. Anne’s Senior Center in Philadelphia, July 31. The center is one of four operated by archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services as part of its continuum of senior care. (Photo by Gina Christian)

A year after her husband died, Jennine Tracey received some candid advice from her doctor:

“You’ve got to get out.”

Tracey, who describes herself as a “social person,” admitted that widowhood had made her almost housebound.

“At that point, I didn’t have the motivation anymore,” she said. “I didn’t even feel like getting dressed.”

Five years later, Tracey is a regular at the St. Anne’s Senior Center, one of four operated by archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS).

Part of the secretariat for Catholic Human Services, CHCS supports older adults within the archdiocese through in-home and parish-based support, as well as geriatric care management, adult day care and senior housing communities. Last year, CHCS served over 4,600 adults.

Tracey considers herself a satisfied CHCS client.

“Now I’m here at St. Anne’s almost every day,” she said. “The only way I won’t come up is if I have to watch my grandson.”

Core services, right in the community

Located half a mile from St. Anne Parish in the city’s Port Richmond section, St. Anne’s Senior Center is open Monday through Friday year-round from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Membership is free for adults aged 60 and over. Mature adults under age 60 are also welcome, but pay a modest fee for some programs.

The CHCS senior centers offer four core services to participants — meals, transportation to and from the sites, social services and recreation, including exercise classes, games and art activities.

Two of the centers — St. Charles in South Philadelphia and Norris Square in North Philadelphia — are full-service facilities that are open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and feature expanded programming. St. Anne’s, along with Star Harbor in West Philadelphia, are satellite centers open for half-day sessions.

Getting creative, going social: Read our related story on how archdiocesan senior centers help older adults connect through the arts.

All of the facilities, which are fully accredited by the National Institute of Senior Centers, are funded through a partnership between CHCS and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, and supplemented by member contributions. Minimum age requirements vary slightly among the centers, ranging from 50 to 60, but all work to enhance the quality of life for mature adults in the surrounding community. Participation is open to seniors regardless of religious belief or affiliation.

During the past year, the centers served more than 1,400 seniors, providing some 53,000 meals and responding to almost 2,600 requests for information and assistance. Health and wellness programs among the four centers drew more than 16,000 participants.

More than basic senior nutrition

While seniors rely on a patchwork of services to meet their needs, nutrition tops the list, said Karen Becker, CHCS’s assistant director of senior centers.

“Some seniors are not even eating a third of their recommended diet,” Becker said. She noted that in addition to meals, the CHCS centers also connect participants with nutrition assistance benefits — such as produce vouchers, which allow income-qualified seniors to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. During the months of June and July, the centers distributed nearly 2,200 vouchers to seniors.

The CHCS centers’ food service strives to provide more than just basic nutrition.

“I’ve always said when I retire I’m going to become a barista,” joked Deb Lytle, a registered nurse who directs CHCS’s Adult Day Care Center in Souderton. “Our clients are very clear about how they like their coffee and tea.”

CHCS’s Souderton facility caters to adults with either cognitive or physical disabilities such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease or stroke. Because of its more intensive level of assistance, the adult day care center has a participation fee of $68 per day, which clients pay privately or through various health insurance benefits.

Respite and resources, with parish help

While enhancing seniors’ daily lives, the centers also provide much-needed respite for families, who can feel overwhelmed by the demands of caring for older loved ones around the clock. As a result, long-term options can be evaluated more carefully and without duress.

Throughout the elder care process, CHCS is able to provide seniors and their families with a continuum of resources, according to case manager Amy Juarez.

With over 20 years of geriatrics experience, Juarez is one of several CHCS social service professionals who are based in 15 parishes throughout the archdiocese. A member of St. Rose of Lima in North Wales, Juarez supports seniors in her home parish as well as those from St. Maria Goretti in Hatfield.

Juarez observes that clients and their families trust a familiar face from the parish community.

“A lot of people don’t know the first step to take in seeking help,” she said. “But they feel more comfortable talking to someone they already know to assist them through the process.”

In her role, Juarez conducts in-home assessments and connects families with needed services. She regularly speaks at parish events to highlight CHCS’s resources, which include a senior help line (888-679-7669) that provides information and assistance regarding a wide range of senior care concerns.

“We give them a place to start,” said Jennifer Scornaienchi, who staffed the help line prior to becoming director of the St. Anne’s center.

Scornaienchi added that the CHCS centers work to accommodate the language and cultural needs of their populations. The St. Anne’s center staff, for example, includes a bilingual social worker fluent in both English and Polish, which is spoken by many Port Richmond residents.

Falling in love with a second home

According to Becker, the CHCS senior centers are like a second home for clients and staff — as well as for volunteers, who donated almost 23,000 hours of service last year.

“People come in and they fall in love with the place,” said Becker.

Emma Sanchez, a retired teacher who has attended St. Anne’s for five years, admits she feels lost on the rare weekdays the center is closed.

“I have interaction here, instead of being at home feeling isolated,” she said. “If we have days off because of snow, I think, ‘I should be doing something today. I should be at the center.’”

Kathleen Crouse, a volunteer and member of St. Anne’s Senior Center in Philadelphia, prepares crafts for a fall-themed event, July 26. The center is part of archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services’ various resources for area seniors. (Gina Christian)