By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — The morning of Oct. 25 felt gloomy and chilly until the door opened to the Community/Senior Center at St. Therese Little Flower Parish. Warm yellow walls, bright lights, a good smell of food and conversation welcomed visitors inside.
Four student nurses from St. Luke’s Hospital nursing program were talking about Medicare prescription issues as part of the center’s health education over lunch activities. The 15 or so men and women listened to the student nurses and occasionally asked questions. Smiling volunteers placed plates of food in front of the seniors. The cheerful busyness continued while site administrator Sharon Sanders took a break to talk about the senior center.
Sanders has served as the site administrator for about 4 years. She, with friend and fellow Ladies Auxiliary member of the Knights of Peter Claver Beverly Friday, had volunteered in the Senior Center food pantry and helped with arts and crafts when the center was located at St. Louis Parish. The parish, in conjunction with the Mid America Regional Council, had established a Senior Citizens Nutrition Site in the parish hall in 1974, and the senior center evolved from it. MARC continued to be responsible for the meals served at the site. Catholic Charities began site operations not long after, and continues to this day.
Sanders stepped up to the plate and took over as administrator when her predecessor left.
“The senior center had been at St. Louis Parish for years, but with everything that was going on for the seniors, we got cramped for space,” she recalled. “Here at St. Therese, we’ve got more room.” The Senior Nutrition site and center was relocated to St. Therese this past spring and opened June 1.
“We’re open Monday through Friday,” Sanders said, “and see between 20 and 25 people here everyday. The majority of our folks are African-American women, but we have a few men and a few non African -Americans. Not always the same people, it depends on the activity and the day of the week, and the weather. For instance, Mondays we do exercises, both floor and chair. Danielle Lowry leads them and she’s really good at explaining how the exercises will help their bodies. Some folks from the neighborhood come to exercise, some off and on, some all the time. Tuesdays we have arts and crafts and Bible study. Wednesdays, student nurses from Research Hospital, a nurse and a case manager from Catholic Charities, are here to talk about senior health. Thursdays the student nurses come from St. Luke’s. All the student nurses are in their third year. Fridays, ah on Fridays we have tap dancing and play Pokeno. (Pokeno is a combination of poker and Bingo, played like Bingo.)”
Not everyone who frequented the St. Louis Senior Center comes to St. Therese. “We lost some who didn’t want to make the trip all the way here,” Sanders said. “Some didn’t have transportation. We lost a few volunteers too. But, there were three women committed to St. Louis Senior Center. They showed up every day, worked serving meals, helping with arts and crafts, at Bible studies and anything else they could. And those women show up here everyday, working with no pay; it’s a Christ-like service to the folks. They are doing what Christ has called us to do!”
As site administrator, Sanders also coordinates the drivers who deliver meals to the homebound. “We have about 100 people who receive lunch daily during the week,” she said as drivers began returning to the senior center carrying two or three empty coolers each. “The drivers all have assigned routes,” she said, “but generally our homebound folks live between 51st Street and Gregory Blvd., from Paseo to Swope Parkway, although we do have one lady who lives further south. Our drivers don’t just deliver the meals; they check on the people. I’ve been told more than once that a driver called an ambulance for a resident because she was sick.”
Sanders credits her wanting to serve others to her parents. “I had two parents who served and worked, helping anybody and everybody who needed help. I grew up in Blessed Sacrament Parish and learned about serving others. I worked in education as an adult, but when I lost my job, I felt useless. Then I read a book called The Way of the Shepherd.” (Written by Dr. Kevin Leman and William Pentak, the book is about a cub reporter who lands an interview with a well-respected CEO and walks away with seven secrets to inspiring and leading people to view their jobs as a calling.)
“One day I heard a voice in my head tell me to get out of bed,” she said, “and do something! So I went to volunteer at St. Louis Senior Center. I just want to be of service, whatever God is calling me to do. No matter how small the service, it will have an impact on someone in some way.”
Sanders makes every effort to work with the volunteers who work under her leadership. “You know,” she said, “God doesn’t want leaders who are bossy. It says so in the Scriptures. God wants leaders who serve others (Mark 10:42-45). And that’s where I’m coming from.”
Sanders would like to interest and enable more seniors to come to the senior center. “I wish we had a van or a bus! And there’s a vacant lot across the street where we could plant a community garden, give our folks and our neighbors something to do outdoors in the spring and summer and give us fresh vegetables.”
“Our folks” look forward to the senior center’s Halloween party Oct. 31, and other special events. But mostly it’s the feeling of being cared for and cared about by others that keeps bringing the seniors to St. Therese Senior Center.