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A Place That They Can Call Home

October 11, 2007 By:
Lynn B. Edelman, JE Feature
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Helene Seitchik volunteers at the library, where one of the fringe benefits includes checking out new books.

When Helene Seitchik entered the lobby of the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life in October 2001, she thought that she had "arrived in heaven." She felt immediately at home in the "bright and airy" environment of the Horsham residence for Jewish older adults. In fact, Seitchik was one of the very first people to call the center home and views each day there as a cause for celebration.

"There are at least 30 things to do here at any given time," says Seitchik, who tries to exhibit self-control by limiting herself to "only 12 to 13 activities" a week.

Her schedule includes current events, music therapy, bingo, shopping trips and lunch outings with the staff; attendance at synagogue services and Jewish-holiday celebrations; and participation in special programs, such as the Auxiliary's popular "tea and music" series featuring live entertainment.

A prolific reader, Seitchik also volunteers at the center's library, where she gets "first crack" at each new book in the impressive collection of titles. One of her favorite ways to spend an afternoon is to retreat to a sunny, secluded sitting room off of the building's popular Town Square design, and lose herself in an exciting adventure.

The 86-year-old native Philadelphian, who grew up just blocks away from the Logan neighborhood where she lived for several years at the center's former campus, has enjoyed a rich and full life that has included a rewarding career as an accountant, as well as travel to Israel, Europe and other exciting locales.

Prior to her move to Abramson, Seitchik feared growing older. She never married, and so worried about care in her golden years. In her light-filled private room surrounded by "lovely people who have become like family," she now embraces aging as just another stage of life. "I feel very blessed to be here," she says.

Frank Podietz, Abramson's president and CEO, feels that Seitchik's experience is proof-positive that the residential. home-like environment of the center is a "life-affirming style of living."

He adds that "in our Abramson Residence, men and women needing full-time nursing care live in single rooms with private, wheelchair accessible baths. Residents are encouraged to bring an armoire or other favorite piece of furniture and to decorate their rooms with comforters, pictures, books and mementos that reflect their personal tastes and interests."

Using the model of a family home, the Abramson Residence was designed to reflect a residential scale and ambiance. Nine bedrooms are clustered around a common sitting area and den. Three of these clusters form a household, whose members share a living room, an activity kitchen, an attractively appointed dining room and a four-season porch, where residents can read, socialize and enjoy views of the center's beautiful gardens all year round. The caregiving staff is based in the clusters so that residents can develop solid relationships with the men and women who assist them with their various needs.

"We continue to support this special place because it fulfills our standards for caring and giving. We challenge the staff and leaders to constantly meet higher levels of caring and sharing," insist Madlyn and Leonard Abramson.

Like Helene Seitchik, Lillian Gaurd also heralds being one of the original residents. She loves having her own private bedroom, where she says she can do whatever she likes whatever time she likes to do it.

There is very little that Gaurd does not "like" to do, as evidenced by her attendance at virtually every program and activity offered. A lifelong singer, she is actively involved in the glee club, which recently participated in an intergenerational music project called Yachdav, the Hebrew word for "together." The project, funded by the Abramson Family Foundation, was a collaborative effort with the junior and adult choirs of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen; it involved months of rehearsals in preparation for two free community concerts presented in June.

Gaurd's life at Abramson is rich in Jewish expression. She regularly attends synagogue services and studies Torah each week with the center's chaplain, Sheila Segal.

Recently, Segal helped Gaurd realize her life-long goal of becoming a Bat Mitzvah. After four months of intensive tutoring, the 83-year-old became a "daughter of the commandments" at an emotional ceremony attended by relatives who traveled to Horsham from as far away as California, Florida, Georgia and Boston.

Many Abramson residents want to remain connected to their Jewish heritage and traditions, and have found a vibrant community at the center. Supported by rabbinic students and volunteers from area synagogues, Segal leads Shabbat and holiday services, provides pastoral counseling, and helps residents celebrate Jewish festivals with traditional, kosher food and programming.

To foster Jewish continuity, the center sponsors an innovative program called Project SHEMA. This multigenerational initiative pairs young people from synagogue and Jewish day schools throughout the Greater Philadelphia area with residents in programs and activities that allow them to share Jewish values l'dor v'dor -- "from generation to generation."

Green Are His Gardens

Paul Calesnick has always enjoyed gardening and is delighted to be able to continue his passion for plants since he moved to Abramson from his Abington home some 21/2 years ago. His room is filled with greenery that flourishes in the afternoon sunlight.

At the center's gardening club, Calesnick learned how to start plants from cuttings and entered one of his prized aloe plants in the center's fall flower show.

He also delights in feeding the wild birds that flock to the garden and enjoys feeding the fish in the aquarium in his household's living room.

A born organizer, Calesnick recently started a group for residents with macular degenerative disease. He arranged for a speaker to address the group and was thrilled that 60 people attended. He's also involved in the center's Resident's Council, and looks forward to sharing his views and opinions at monthly meetings.

Since his wife died, Calesnick, who has mobility issues due to complications from polio, had been living alone.

His daughter -- concerned that her father had no one to assist him if he happened to lose his balance and fall -- convinced him to explore the center.

"It is wonderful to be here," he says, explaining that the medical attention he receives on-site gives him the strength and energy to pursue his many interests.

Podietz explains that 70 percent of the 324 men and women -- or 227 individuals -- who live at the Abramson Residence receive grants from the Medical Assistance program. For each of these residents, the Abramson Center subsidizes approximately $75 per day. Payment caps and recently proposed cuts in medical assistance rates by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania present a challenge to the center's mission to provide a high-quality lifestyle to older adults in an environment where Jewish values and traditions are respected.

Podietz further notes that a shortfall of nearly $6 million a year is covered in part by earnings from the center's endowments and annual fundraising efforts. However, rising costs and further medical-assistance rate reductions will require greater community support to offset these large gaps in reimbursement.

In that same vein, Podietz acknowledges the generosity and commitment of the Abramsom Center's board of directors, in addition to the support of philanthropic individuals, foundations and businesses, who contributed some $28 million toward the $82 million construction of the Horsham campus.

The center's name recognizes a lead gift of $7 million by the Abramson Family Foundation, and Madlyn and Leonard Abramson.

Podietz emphasizes that the money raised to build the center's Horsham campus was never intended to support the cost of providing for the daily care of residents.

"Our annual fund, which was launched with the help of a $2 million, four-year challenge grant from the Abramson Family Foundation, is of vital importance in helping us to bridge the funding gap we face each year."

He adds that "appeals such as the Center's Endowment Fund, and other special campaigns, help to finance programs that enhance our residents' quality of life and to build a future reserve that will sustain our ability to serve the elderly who otherwise could not afford care."

"The Torah tells us to honor our father and mother so that we may enjoy long lives in the world that God has given us. This is the guiding force behind the life-affirming work of the Abramson Center for Jewish Life -- a true community treasure that the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is proud to support," states Leonard Barrack, chair of Federation's Board of Trustees.

Barrack believes that "the center's innovative programming, which encourages older adults to continue to explore their talents and abilities in an environment that enables their highest possible level of independence, articulates one of the principal missions of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility.

"Our two agencies share a common commitment to developing, implementing and supporting programming that positively impacts the lives of our community's elderly," he adds.

"The Abramson Center for Jewish Life is an important community resource for older adults and their loved ones," according to Podietz, "and we depend upon broad-based community support to make certain that the elderly of our community can count on this excellent facility for generations to come."

To learn more about the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life or to arrange a tour, call 215-371-3605. To learn how you can support the center through a charitable contribution, call 215-371-1800 or log on to: www.abramsoncenter.org.

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