Lemington center looks to increase number of seniors

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In recent days, Aaron Fletcher has been giving pep talks and distributing letters offering free rides to Lemington Community Services for residents at the Eva P. Mitchell community, an independent living low-rise in Lincoln-Lemington where he is the maintenance supervisor.

His motivation is two-fold: He's tired of seeing people languish alone and he's trying to help the senior center build up its numbers.

"I've got two people signed up," he said, striking the back of his hand against a near-empty sign-up sheet the other day. "Two people. I can't get 'em to come out offering free rides. But I'll keep trying. I'm going to do everything I can to keep this place going."

The Lemington center, which is housed in the basement of the Cornerstone Baptist Church on Lincoln Avenue, is not threatened with closure. But it is one elder service provider that could see a dip in funding from the county's Area Agency on Aging under a new formula starting next summer.

"They want to make sure the money is distributed fairly," said Grace Kizzie, director of LCS. "A center that has 200 people should get more money than one that has 50."

Lemington's center is one of 57 that operate under the county agency's umbrella and provides a range of services as a focal-point site.

During a three-year transition period beginning next year, if a focal point center falls below an average of 50 participants a day, its annual funding will be prorated accordingly, said Mildred E. Morrison, the agency on aging's administrator.

"We have been working with centers to boost their attendance," she said. "Going forward, agencies that have an average of 50 people per day will have core funding of $60,000 guaranteed," with an extra $1,000 per person above that average, she said. "Lemington's average is 49, so they're close."

July and August saw small jumps in the daily average to 53 and 56, respectively, Ms. Kizzie said. The numbers depend on what people respond to -- social service referrals, classes, yoga, line dancing, "ask the doctor" sessions, jazz concerts, field trips and birthday parties.

"I was at Giant Eagle and somebody handed me a flier," said Julia Culliver, who responded and went to the center Thursday for a flu shot with her husband, Charles. "I'd never known this was here before."

"We have a huge number of older adults in our demographic area [Lincoln-Lemington, Belmar and part of Homewood]," Ms. Kizzie said. "If we could grab people just within arm's reach, we'd have more than 50 a day."

Two days a week, some regulars assemble for step exercise to disco music. One day a week a group gathers with yoga mats. Friday is field-trip day, when some regulars show up at the center to play cards.

Since his move back to Pittsburgh from Ohio last year, Edward Carter is at the center pretty regularly, he said, "for something to do, a chance to socialize, to see faces I haven't seen in a while. When I turned 75, I decided it was time to come home while I could still see people."

The Lemington center has collected about 700 names on a roster of elders it has served in one or many ways through outreach to churches and senior centers, making visits to senior events and by advertising.

Mr. Fletcher, who qualifies for services at age 61, is a volunteer at the center. His employer, the Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corp., manages 18 properties including the Eva P. Mitchell community. It is near the Lemington Home, a former nursing home where the center was housed before the home went bankrupt. The center has been in a tenant in the church for seven years.

In the letter Mr. Fletcher distributed, he wrote of the home's legacy, which continues through the center.

The center is the current incarnation of an 1883 institution that began in the Hill District, the Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored Women. Through its history, it moved and was renamed Lemington Home for the Aged, Lemington Center and, as the latest vestige, Lemington Community Services.

The mission today is to support and stimulate elders so they can live fulfilled and independent as long as possible.

"I've seen a lot of people pass on because of boredom, with no motivation to do things," he said, glancing at the group step-dancing to a Donna Summer song. "Now that's what I want to see."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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