In the 1960s, as the youthful Baby Boom generation began to take over the news, their parents and grandparents sometimes felt left behind. The question became “Do we have a place for them in our fast-moving, youth-oriented society?”
The U.S. Government recognized vital needs. The Older Americans Act, signed into law on July 14, 1965, established the Administration on Aging within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and created Medicare, a health insurance program for the elderly; and Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor.
Other social issues were more complicated. Vicky Perralta, the Filipino Program Director of the Philadelphia Center for Older People, told the Inquirer: “I have seen more elderly people die from sheer loneliness and isolation…” She offered a cultural perspective, based on “my being an Asian, where the old are really looked up to, where they are really loved, respected and wanted ‘till they reach their graves…”
Our parish developed a prototype solution, when Monsignor Sefton, along with Monsignor McDonough of Catholic Social Services, and Vicky Perralta, shared a common dream to create a space “for and by the elderly in their own neighborhood.”
At the same time, our neighborhood was changing, which became part of the challenge. Our Parish 100th Anniversary Book points out that in the late 1950s, as longtime parishioners began to move out to the suburbs, new families of different racial and ethnic backgrounds — many of whom were not Catholic — began to move in. What was needed, then, was “the first community of its kind in the archdiocese, a recreational center for citizens regardless of race or creed.” (it is important to note that the word “citizen” was used, then, as a synonym for “people,” not to signify nationality!)
Monsignor Sefton purchased the former J.J. White Funeral Home on the corner of 47th and Springfield in 1966 and the Parish Centennial book notes that “many volunteers pitched in to clean, paint, repair, and decorate the former funeral home and make it an attractive place to meet.” Initial offerings – chosen by the community — included Arts and Crafts and Painting classes, as well as a discussion group, trips, and a “TV Lounge.”
The efforts were successful: the 1967 Parish Monthly Bulletin reports: “It was a joy indeed to see so many happy faces at the first Open House of our new enter for older citizens on Monday, September 18. Almost a hundred members and potential members spent the day inspecting the facilities at the center, lunching together and sharing in the afternoon’s entertainment. The future of Star Harbor seems assured because it has the enthusiastic approval of the people for whom it is designed. All the older citizens are invited to join. Many happy hours and welcome companionship are in store for them as they participate in the activities of the Center. Star Harbor is the fulfillment of a dream of Monsignor Sefton….His efforts in behalf of the senior citizens will be long and gratefully remembered…”
Today, Star Harbor Senior Community Center is operated by Catholic Housing and Community Services in partnership with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), and continues “to provide services to ethnically and economically diverse seniors age 55 and over,” encouraging older adults to “engage in activities they enjoy and find meaningful. Health and wellness is a top priority with offerings in exercise, health education, screenings, and immunizations. Lunch is available for all members that are 60 years of age and older. Breakfast is available for purchase.” A counselor is on staff for senior issues. Today’s offerings also include opportunities such as “Learning to Use Your Tablet classes for iPad or Kindle.” Membership is Free. Check it out!
Star Harbor Senior Citizen Center, as in St. Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin, September 1967