The Bender JCC of Greater Washington, located in Rockville, Maryland, is a hub for busy adults — even adults over the age of 100.
Around 30 years ago, the Bender JCC implemented the Selma Sweetbaum Senior Satellite Program (Senior Satellite Program) to serve the retirees and combat isolation in their community. The program is named in honor of Selma Sweetbaum who retired from the Bender JCC in 2012. She spent 37 years at the JCC as a passionate trailblazer in programming, advocacy and engagement on behalf of the community’s senior adults.
The program’s mission is to prevent isolation, improve nutrition, build community and enable participants to age in a place with appropriate connections to support services. One way they do this is through providing meals for the older adults. “It’s an effort to shop and cook,” said Linda Wechsler, the senior nutrition director at the Bender JCC. “Some of the attendees come to these programs on each of the four days a week it is offered, and would go five days if there were one on Friday.”
According to Treva Bustow, the JCC’s chief marketing officer, when seniors lack access to balanced meals on a regular basis, health often declines and the opportunity to remain independent and in one’s own home is threatened. “The program ensures seniors receive one-third of recommended daily nutritional requirements, maintain social engagement with peers, and engage in physical and intellectual activities,” she explained.
In addition to providing hot, nutritious kosher lunches, the program offers health and wellness opportunities such as exercise classes, blood pressure screenings, discussions, lectures, and social programs to engage and stimulate the mind, body and spirit.
They also bring in low-vision specialists to help raise awareness of blindness and visual impairment, coping skills, and services available. When choosing more exciting programs, Wechsler said she tries to offer something for everyone, from sheer entertainment like belly dancers to college-level science courses.
Aside from the exercise, socialization, entertainment and nutrition components, the Senior Satellite Program provides critical, safety-net support for seniors. It reduces the burden on local government to provide services directly to those in need, and lowers the number of emergency services required. “If someone who regularly attends doesn’t show up one day, we go check on them,” said Wechsler. “It’s what life is, what it should be.”
The success of the program is shown through the members. In a recent survey, 90% of participants reported the program has helped them remain independent and in their own home. Additionally, 95% of survey respondents said they are eating healthier because they attend the satellite program. A 103-year-old participant is present every Monday through Thursday. He said the program keeps him busy, and if it wasn’t for the friendships he has made, he would just sit at home.
From health checkups to hanging out with friends, this program is encouraging active minds, active bodies and community engagement. Overall, the Bender JCC is leading the way in its community for those of all ages who want to live life to the fullest.