Not many people can say that they cruised to four ports of call in four different countries on one single Friday night, but I can and so can 104 other local “cruisers.”
As part of the Senior Community Services (SCS) ongoing 40th anniversary celebration, 25 people and a few staff from each SCS senior center in Delaware County — Chester Senior Center in Chester, Schoolhouse Center in Ridley Township, Good Neighbor Senior Center in Darby Township and Friendship Circle Senior Center in Darby — boarded two huge luxury buses, under the direction of cruise director Michele O’Brien (AKA the SCS director of volunteers), to take part in a “Progressive Dinner Cruise.”
The Progressive Dinner Cruise was intended to bond the four different senior centers under the SCS umbrella. The participants at each center often hear about the other centers, but most have never been to any other than their own.
“The SCS senior centers are one of Delaware County’s best kept secrets,” O’Brien exclaimed enthusiastically while we were mid-cruise on MacDade Boulevard somewhere. “Each center is in its own little world with its own personality. As part of our year-long anniversary celebration, we thought this dinner cruise would be a fun way for members from each center a look at the other centers that they always hear about.”
Everyone on the trip knew what “countries” that we were going to visit, but the food, décor and ambience was intended to be kept a surprise — even to staff — until we arrived. Volunteers at each center decorated, cooked, served and couldn’t do enough for their guests. This Progressive Dinner Cruise was such a fun, cute idea that from the moment that I received my “cruise invitation,” I was excited to disembark at these four delightful ports.
The cruise began at Schoolhouse Center, where after registering and getting our embarkation instructions, we “set sail” for Chester Senior Center at 721 Hayes St., which had transformed itself into Cancun, Mexico. In we went, greeted by center director Jamee Nowell and her friendly, hospitable staff of volunteers, sporting brightly colored Mexican sombreros, shaking matching brightly colored maracas to south-of-the-border songs playing in the background. Tables, with cloths of the same colors, were set up with tortillas and salsa, miniature piñatas and other festive touches, while cruisers noshed on appetizers, sipped wine, socialized and listened as door prize tickets were called.
When we finished at the appetizer port of call, we all boarded back onto our cruise ship buses and off we went to Friendship Circle Senior Center, 1515 Lansdowne Ave., Darby, on the campus of Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital and under the direction of Barbara Caso. This was our “salad” course of the progressive dinner, and the port of call was the Thousand Islands, situated between New York and Canada. SCS Program Director Christine Helmandollar and her cheerful, fun crew at Friendship Circle greeted guests at the door, placing floral leis around their necks. Inside, the ambience was island-themed, with island music, fresh fruit sangria and salads made with many of the veggies grown right there at the senior center. The time flew, with talking and laughing and toasting “good times” with the sangria, and before we knew it, Christine was leading a Conga line back to the bus so that we could cruise on back to the U.S.A.
We ended up in Charleston, S.C., a place that’s called Good Neighbor Senior Center every other day of the year. Located at 1085 Hook Road, next to the Darby Township administration building, Good Neighbor was the site for the dinner’s main entrées. This port-of-call gave the words “comfort foods” a whole new meaning. In true Southern cooking style, the hosts at Good Neighbor, er — I mean in Charleston, S.C. — served up ribs, southern fried chicken, collard greens, mac-n-cheese, sweet potatoes and a host of other homemade down-home kind of dishes. The décor was “40” for the 40th anniversary, and the number was placed on everything from wall hangings to napkin stickers. The Good Neighbor crew prayed before the meal and couldn’t have been more hospitable.
Joanne Graham, center director, and her crew of gracious volunteers, came around continually to offer more food and more Southern Style sweet tea, or for those who preferred, some spiked with Southern Comfort. The bus excursion was turning into a “booze cruise,” which was fine with me, with it being a Friday night cruise and something big, like 40 years, to celebrate. Everyone was having such an enjoyable time, and I was meeting so many nice, new friends on board. I was almost disappointed when the announcement came that it was time to leave for our final destination.
Before I get to our final course, I have to tell you about our bus driver (ship captain?) Melvin Brothers Jr. of Brotherly Love Coach Lines. Melvin made the trip fun, putting on vintage videos of The Jackson Five and then an old Sinbad comedy routine. He knew how to turn that agonizing Friday evening rush hour traffic in Delco into a few laughs. I couldn’t finish writing about this Progressive Dinner Cruise without giving him a shoutout for getting us safely to all our destinations.
Next and final port of call was Schoolhouse Center, 600 Swarthmore Ave., Folsom. In the five-hour window of time from when we first embarked on the cruise until we returned to the center, the place was totally transformed into Paris, France. We were greeted by center Director Kim McDaniel and a bevy of smiling volunteers, all clad in French berets, beckoning us to come inside the darkened center. The rooms were lit up by hundreds of little white twinkle lights. We could choose to sit in the room surrounding the Eiffel Tower or in the other room, “the Louvre,” while we indulged in an assortment of dessert cakes and coffee and tea.
During our “nightcap,” Arthur Weisfeld, the founder and executive director of Senior Community Services, pulled a winning raffle ticket for the upcoming SCS 40th Anniversary Gala at Paxon Hollow Country Club on Oct. 27. Patricia Thierry, of Chester, was the lucky winner of two gala tickets. During its 40th anniversary year, SCS held a special event each month, including its annual volunteer recognition luncheon in April and its May art show at Delaware County Community College. In addition to October’s gala, SCS will finish out the year with a caregiver luncheon in November during National Caregiver Month and a special 40th anniversary wall calendar published in December, along with its annual Christmas party.
Weisfeld thanked the many who were involved in planning and executing the Anniversary Progressive Dinner.
“We don’t do many events like this when all the centers participate in a single event together, and that’s why tonight is so special,” he told the crowd during its final stop at Schoolhouse. “This night has given me a really good feeling of unity and harmony. It was really wonderful to watch the hosts and the guests interact and really enjoy themselves. Thank you for this exceptional night.”
Senior Community Services (www.scsdelco.org) is a nonprofit organization that began in 1977 through the joint efforts of Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging (COSA) and concerned citizens. SCS has developed into a strong community organization, encompassing four multi-purpose senior centers (the four that we visited on Friday night) and a broad array of services for homebound older persons throughout Delaware County.
SCS’ four nationally accredited senior centers nurture the mind, body and soul of active older adults. If any one of us were to stop by any of the four centers on any given day, we would find seniors participating in a large variety of activities, including art lessons, exercise, crafts, cards, intergenerational activities, cultural celebrations, holiday parties, veterans recognition, dance, foreign languages, knitting, sculpture, jewelry making, table topic discussions, woodcarving, cooking lessons, weaving, reading and discussing, gardening and much, much more. The seniors at these centers exhibit in art shows, take day excursions and overnight trips (on the day of our dinner cruise, many of the seniors excitedly talked about their cruise later this week to Nova Scotia), listen to informative lectures, participate in workshops and enjoy lunch and occasional dinners together. Additionally, SCS holds events in Delaware County communities so seniors don’t even have to come into the centers. SCS also operates many programs in the community to help seniors such as the Aging At Home program.
Nearly 7,000 individuals made 83,743 visits to SCS Centers in Delaware County last year. The centers are always looking for new volunteers to lead a class, help out in activities and give a hand in countless other ways. No matter what kind of talent or hobby that you have, the good folks at the senior centers will show you how to share it.
Seniors can register to be a member at any of the four centers whenever they are ready to meet new friends, enrich their lives and have some fun. Any senior who isn’t involved in one of these centers doesn’t know what they are missing. These truly are active, thriving senior centers. But don’t take my word for it. Stop by any of these centers and talk with seniors who are already taking advantage of these social meccas. They’ll be happy to tell you how SCS has enhanced and improved their lives.
“What a beautiful night,” gushed Pearl Williams of Darby Township, who is a member of Good Neighbor Senior Center and was visiting Schoolhouse for the very first time. “Each senior center was really different, but the people were so nice and so friendly at all of them. This was a well-put-together affair, with lots of nice fellowship. It sure was a lot of fun to do something like this on a Friday night!”
Before I left, I glanced over and noticed a group of women in their cruise-wear finery, snapping a selfie under the Eiffel Tower to keep as a lasting reminder of this special, memorable night aboard the “cruise ship.” I couldn’t help but smile.
Happy 40th anniversary, Senior Community Services! Here’s to the next 40!
Readers can contact Peg DeGrassa at email@example.com.