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Ida Benderson Senior Center “A Warm Comfortable Place to Be”

“Ida Benderson Center Customer Jimmy Bowman”

At the reception desk you’re greeted by “Martha” who works in a program called Experience Works, which targets people over 60 wanting to re-enter the workforce. She quickly transitioned back to respond to the ringing of phones and questions aimed at the reception desk. She then escorted me to Ms. Clark’s office.

The main room is a buzz with activity as people and events are in constant change. A Checker game here a card game there. And what’s that? “Bingo!” I met Linda Clark, the centers’ director on a busy Monday morning as she was in the middle of the center’s many activities of the day.

The office door opens as a client inquires about a friend who hasn’t been seen in several days. “I’m worried about her. She seemed alright last week.” Linda assures her that she’ll try to find out what’s going on. Immediately, she gets on the phone to an agency which enabled her to find the person in question and everything was alright. The person in question had an appointment that morning.

At the Ida Benderson Center at 205 S. Salina Street, Downtown Syracuse, if you’re a regular participant in daily activities and don’t show up you will be missed.

Clark discusses the legacy of the center and shared a little information about the woman for which it’s named. “Ida Benderson was a real civic individual and civic worker. The Benderson Heights Apartments and several landmarks within Syracuse that have her name associated with them.”

“Benderson was very concerned about seniors falling through the cracks and established the Ida Benderson Senior Center right here. We also have a little craft shop where the seniors actually made quilts and things that are sold called F.A.R.E. = Fine Arts of the Resident Elderly where they sell their items. The population has changed as most of the city, so the needs of these seniors are much more critical now.”

“The fact is, there aren’t as many essential services that once existed downtown like shops and stores. Those kind of services are no longer available to the senior citizens, despite the fact that they live in apartments in Clinton Plaza and other areas downtown.”

A major shift has taken place as recent as 5 years ago, as the center’s seeing more people with dementia and other issues. There is a direct relationship between some clients and the Department of Social Services or some other adult so that they can manage their funds through the month.

The center is part of the Department of Parks and Recreation which operates a network of senior centers within the city of Syracuse. The center’s activities include day trips, various health screenings, daily lunches and “some company.” Clark talks about the center and its relationship to city government. “We’re under Parks and Recreation we’re able to take advantage of some of the things that are offered especially in the recreation part for youth we can also tap into for seniors.”

I attempt to keep up with Ms. Clark as she traversed the room pausing for brief introductions with each one. There’s a kind word, some chit chatm or even some direction given to a cheerful worker who carefully wiped down each table after lunch. “We like to turn the T.V. off during lunch and talk to each other. We’re like a family.”

When asked about trips to the casino as part of their list of outings, Clark was adamant that “we’re not allowed to go there and I wouldn’t be an advocate for changing that. There are some who want to go to the casino. We won’t be going to the casino. That’s a negative reinforcement given the limited dollars they have. That concept of get rich quick is over. It’s corny but we’re going to the zoo, it’s corny but we’re going to Corning Glass. We’ll have Catholic Charities make us some box lunches, get on a bus, and get people out so they can get some fresh air. We want different exposures so that they don’t have to just go back to looking at the four walls.”

After lunch, several were half watching the television where a vintage black & white movie was playing. I must admit the last senior center I had walked into was 20 years ago they were watching soap operas and knitting.

“They like vintage black & white movies and they go through a lot of coffee. On most days they’ve served over 100 cups by 11:00 A.M.” Clark grins as she shrieks, “I’ve tried to sneak in some decaf once in a while but they’ll say, ‘Linda there’s no spinach in this coffee.'”

“What inspires me is having the opportunity to get men who are over 60 in to regular housing there have been a few successes. 85% of my time is spent on advocacy either on the phone or on the computer trying to find out answers to their questions. I’m not a Social Security administrator but these are things that they ask about and I follow up.”

More Than a Meal

“Without Catholic Charities we wouldn’t be able to give them a decent meal. They feed them breakfast and I’ve asked them to provide us with enhanced breakfast on Mondays.”

Clark noticed that many people didn’t have good meals over the weekend. “Breakfast usually is cheese wrapped up in a muffin, so Catholic Charities has agreed to provide enhanced breakfast on Mondays and Fridays since the weekend is where the gap occurs.”

“I have five little ladies that are over the age of 75 have osteoporosis so I make sure we have yogurt for them. My oldest is 90 and my youngest is just 60. There’s a wide range of ages of cultural diversity black and white and Native American. I have a woman that speaks 4 languages but she doesn’t read English. She’s from northern Europe. We have Polish Americans; Hispanics and others. People should feel free to just drop in. I want them to feel warm and comfortable in a place that’s going to be safe for them during the day.”

The Ida Benderson Center and centers like this in the city of Syracuse do more than serve coffee and bingo games. Nutrition programs, social interaction and health screenings, and field trips (as long as you don’t go near a casino). For many of our seniors these centers are a lifeline and connection to the outside world, a nutritious meal, a game of cards or even an old movie, you might even make a friend.

For a list of the programs offered, call the center at 473-4434, Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

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