Seniors in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section are enjoying a new space where they can learn, dine, access benefits and even just “hang out.”
On Nov. 8, archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS) officially dedicated a senior community center on the ground floor of Nativity B.V.M. Place, one of five senior housing communities CHCS operates.
Nativity B.V.M. Place, which has been in operation since 2015, represents the successful conversion of the former parish school into 63 units of affordable senior housing. One of five CHCS senior housing communities, Nativity B.V.M. Place allows residents to remain active in their communities while enjoying apartment living along with access to in-home care, public benefits, food assistance, counseling and intervention.
CHCS provides a full-time, on-site social service coordinator to support the homes’ residents. Presby’s Inspired Life — an independent, faith-based organization that serves seniors — manages the properties, offering 24-hour emergency call services for building issues.
In total, the CHCS facilities house over 260 low-income seniors, with rental fees scaled to accommodate residents’ resources. Major funding for the projects is provided by a blend of tax credits, grants and loans from local, state and federal partners.
Open to both Nativity B.V.M. Place residents and area seniors, the new senior center will offer opportunities for socialization, recreation, physical exercise, education and nutritional support.
Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre, who oversees the Secretariat for Catholic Human Services as part of his administrative and pastoral responsibilities, presided over the center’s blessing ceremony, which was attended by some 120 seniors, staff and supporters.
The repurposed building evoked “the phases of our lives,” said Bishop McIntyre, reminding seniors that “the Lord has his hand on (their) shoulder at every step” in their earthly journey.
Noting that the dedication ceremony took place in the school’s former cafeteria, Bishop McIntyre observed that some of the seniors present “may have eaten lunch in this room as schoolchildren.” He encouraged attendees to recall that they were “loved by God at every age in life.”
Joseph DeFelice, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s mid-Atlantic region director, commended CHCS deputy secretary John Wagner for his vision in developing the structure to meet the needs of area seniors. DeFelice, a Philadelphia native, said that the
successful transformation of the building stood in contrast to the many declining and unused structures he encounters in his work.
Reflecting on the extensive efforts that preceded the building’s conversion, Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon said that projects such as Nativity B.V.M. Place, which enable seniors “to keep living in their own communities,” exemplified “who we are as humans, and as neighbors.”
Senior centers keep participants healthier by addressing a variety of needs experienced by older adults, said Karen Becker, CHCS’s director of senior community centers. The “camaraderie and fellowship” the facilities provide reduce senior depression, she said, while for many clients, senior centers provide what is often “the primary meal” for attendees.
Becker added that the centers are also “partners in the problem-solving process” for older adults, who often face a number of concurrent medical and financial challenges with limited social support.
Louis Colbert, vice president of operations for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, advised seniors “not to keep the center a secret,” but to invite friends to become regular attendees.
Many of the seniors at the Nov. 8 dedication had been clients of CHCS’s St. Ann Senior Community Center, which merged with the Nativity B.V.M. Place facility several weeks ago. Becker thanked Jennifer Scornaienchi — who will now direct the new center, having supervised the St. Ann location — for a “seamless transition” that only saw one day of reduced services.
The ceremony concluded with the Polish hymn “Serdeczna Matko (Beloved Mother)” in honor of the neighborhood’s vibrant Polish-American community, while the reception featured several traditional Polish dishes.
CHCS’ Wagner thanked attendees, whom he described as the senior center’s “main partners,” and summarized the occasion by noting that “this space says, ‘You’re worth it.’”
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