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Senior Center Abounds with Activities

The building at 4650 Taney Ave. was originally a Lutheran Church. In 1977, the property was purchased by Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington and became St. Martin de Porres Senior Center. This past April, the Bishop of Arlington, the Most Reverend Paul Loverede, came to the center to help those involved celebrate their 25th year — 25 years of providing quality services to seniors in the City of Alexandria and outlying areas.

Carol Augustine, Catholic Charities elderly services program director for the past 14 years, said that the anniversary was a very exciting event; she has been the glue who has held the center together and kept the place as vibrant and thriving as it is.

"Carol's a beautiful person," said one of the women who come to the center on a regular basis.

About 50-60 seniors are served by the center every day; they range in age from 60 to 103. Some come by the bus provided by the center, others by the City of Alexandria bus. Many others walk or come by car or taxi.

They come for bingo, movies, exercise, card playing, English classes and “Price Is Right.” They come to sing, they come to laugh, but most of all they come to visit and spend time with friends.

Once a month, they have a birthday celebration to acknowledge all the members whose birthdays fall during that month.

"They love the parties. It's a wonderful place for them to come," said Augustine.

Anna Truslow has been coming to the center for many years and said, "I like everything, especially the field trips."

Last month, the center sponsored a trip to Springfield Mall and to a Successful Aging Lunch. Next month, the participants will go to The Botanical Gardens and The Grist Mill.

Betty Branch is from out of town but comes to the center when she stays with her sister in Alexandria for an extended visit. "When I came in this year, everybody remembered me [from last year] and greeted me by name," said Branch. "I come mostly for the exercise."

SOME SENIORS COME to play pool. Pedro Solorzano and Gum Kim were two of the men playing pool last week. It was on a Thursday, which is one of the quieter days at the center.

"Usually we have five to six people playing," said Solorzano.

Paul Hughes, who has been coming for four years, likes the 10-cent bingo, which is held on Fridays. Beverly Jackson started coming two years ago and said, "This has been a Godsend for me. I didn't know anybody, and this was a place for me to go. We play 'Price Is Right' and other activities. It helps people like us. I get more therapy out of this than a meeting with a therapist."

Dorothy Mitchell is relatively new to the center and said, "It's like a lifeline. There's always somebody ready to say hello to you."

Said Hashimi has been coming for 13 years. He said that he likes the exercise and English classes. Hashimi also likes when the center brings in speakers such as local politicians.

"I walk from Foxchase. I like meeting all the different people," said Hashimi.

Agnabe Rajabali has been coming to the center for the past five years. He's from Iran, and Hashimi comes from Afghanistan.

"We serve people from all over the world," said Augustine. Indeed, the calendar of events is printed in four languages: English, Farsi, Korean and Spanish.

ONCE A WEEK for the past few years, Paul Lanaham has been coming to teach ESL (English as a Second Language). At a session last week, he printed the date and explained Memorial Day. He also translated the word “janitor” into Spanish.

"Paul is a good teacher," said Mohamman Sarraf, one of his students.

Lanaham is a volunteer and is one of many staff and volunteers who keep the center going on a daily basis. Barbara Ripley is a Title V worker (55 and older) who helps out in the kitchen. Although she's only supposed to help serve lunch, many of the members have gotten used to her getting them their coffee and doughnut in the morning. Ripley has been in the food service for years, working at the original Alexandria Hospital, St. Mary's Girls School and Bishop Ireton before retiring. She said that she also delivered the Alexandria Gazette Packet when she was 12 and again as an adult.

"I like helping and enjoy decorating for the birthday parties," said Ripley, who partakes in center activities when she’s not working. "I like being here," she said.

Azizeh Bahari is the kitchen manager, responsible for serving the 50 or so lunches that seniors can purchase for a minimum amount five days a week. Julie Harkin has been the assistant director since last August. "She does a lot," said Augustine. In addition to putting together the calendar, she also runs many of the activities, including “Price Is Right,” bingo and the exercise classes. For the past six years, Nelsie Saunders has been the receptionist and always has a smile and an answer to your question.

Joyce Hutchins has been the social worker for the past few years, but due to funding cuts, she will no longer be able to stay on at the center after the end of June. Augustine is very concerned how they will provide for the services that Hutchins has been providing, such as home visits, development of individualized service plans, assistance in obtaining in-home services, monitoring care and services, assistance with long-term care planning, and resource referral.

These are all important services that the center provides in addition to the socialization. Agnes McMenimen said that she comes for the company but added that the center was responsible for her getting her eyesight checked.

One of the members seemed to say it all when she said, "It's like a second home for me."

St. Martin de Porres is located at 4650 Taney Ave. and can be reached at 703-751-2766. Seniors may go to the center Monday-Friday, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. to participate in the daily programs and to purchase lunch.