Magazine Features

Family of a Different Kind

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can keep Catherine Turner from attending church at the Cincinnati Center Hill Corps.

After all, she lives in the Booth Residence senior housing complex, which is connected to the corps by a sky bridge.

“It’s very convenient,” says Turner, who has lived at Booth for 22 years. “All I have to do is take the elevator to the 6th floor and I’m at church. You couldn’t do no more.”

The Salvation Army in Cincinnati has responded to the need for low–income senior housing with the help of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The longstanding Booth Residence includes 150 senior apartments. Three years ago, the Catherine Booth Residence—located just feet from the corps—opened. It offers 96 one–bedroom apartments in two buildings.

Affordable living

Occupancy is about 98 percent for all three buildings and there’s a waiting list of a year to 18 months. Residents must be at least 62.

“The resident pays about 30 percent of their annual income,” said Theresa Childs, administrator of the sprawling complex. “We could have a contract for $500 for rent and the tenant might pay only $150. HUD pays the remainder. Our programs are strictly low–income. Some pay less than $100 a month.

“It’s very attractive to Baby Boomers who have worked hard all their lives. They’re hard–working, blue–collar workers for the most part. They’re teacher’s aides, factory workers, and postal workers.”

Childs said despite working their entire lives, some seniors find that their Social Security and supplemental income “is not enough for them to live a good, comfortable lifestyle.”

Built–In pastor

“So they come to us and they get to live in a beautiful building where we’re concerned with their safety and we try to provide them the best possible housing we can provide.”

Seniors also have access to a chaplain, Major Shari Payne, who strolls the halls and is like a mother to some. She also makes hospital visits.

“I ask them how they’re doing and if they need any prayer,” Payne says. “Sometimes they just want to talk. Sometimes they have no family who visits so I’m like their welcome wagon.”

Payne also keeps an eye on the seniors who rarely get a visit from family.

“I know I can spread joy,” she said. “I know I can spread some love to those who are sometimes forgotten.”

A place to go

“For me to pop in on somebody or call somebody and see how they’re doing makes my day as much as it makes their day.”

Payne also invites the seniors to church.

“Some of them don’t have a church home and the corps becomes their church home,” she said. “God is in the center of this whole place.”

That’s even more true since the corps added a popular senior center a few years ago.

“Each tenant has things that they’re interested in,” Childs said. “The activities are so varied that anyone who wants to participate can, and there is something for everyone.”

Deb Yeager, the senior center’s activities coordinator, said seniors come for meals three times a week and give a one–dollar love offering, if they can afford it.

Things to do

The center also offers exercise (including Zumba), crafts, ceramics, special speakers, and workshops. There also is a senior lounge, a bird station, a garden club, walking club, and special trips to the grocery store to keep everyone busy.

Yeager said Payne often presents a devotional and prayer. A recent craft class made bookmarks with Scripture. Christian music is played during exercise.

There’s a lot to offer the seniors that most apartments in the community just don’t offer. They get to meet other people and if they don’t have family, the other residents become a part of their family.”
“They praise and cry in class,” Yaeger said. “I throw the seeds at them every day. I’ve prayed with them one–on–one when they’ve had problems.”

The senior center recently unveiled a small hair salon, which has been popular.

“We identified a need,” said Major Robert Klenk, the corps officer of the Center Hill Corps. “Obviously, the residents of Booth are low–income and sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.”

Grace and beauty

Klenk said, in talking to seniors, he realized that self–esteem and personal care were major issues. He consulted with Captain Ashley Mauk, a licensed cosmetologist who is stationed at divisional headquarters.  With the help of a private donor, the hair salon became a reality.

The corps bought equipment, including two bonnet dryers, hired a stylist, and turned one room of the senior center into a salon, which is open once a week. A golf cart transports seniors to the salon. Going to the salon is also a wonderful way to avoid isolation.

“One of the things I’ve always loved about The Salvation Army—and I’ve been an officer for more than 30 years—is its flexibility to meet individual needs,” Klenk said.

Bind us together

“I’m sure there are not many corps that get 15 to 20 people out for ceramics every week,” Klenk said.

Klenk is also proud of the built–in congregation he has just feet from the doors of his corps.

“When it’s bad weather, they can come to our church without even going outside,” he said. “I’m sure there are not many corps in the territory that, on a snow day, have more rather than fewer people in church.”

Klenk said the corps draws about 85 people on a typical Sunday morning. About a third are seniors, a third commuters, and the balance are from the Adult Rehabilitation Center in Cincinnati.

“It’s seamless,” Klenk said. “Everyone is just part of the church. It’s one congregation.”

This is home

One of the senior congregants is 70–year–old Judy Long, a former Salvation Army officer. Her 95–year–old mother, Irma Long, also lives in the complex and has been a senior soldier for 65 years.

“It’s nice having the corps within walking distance,” Judy Long says.

Long, who is known for walking around the campus, was the corps sergeant major at the corps for 28 years. She still plays in the band. She and her mother go to the senior center and love living where they do.

“We all get along well,” she said. “It’s a friendly community.”

Turner has one of the more beautifully decorated apartments. Fellow seniors visit to see her handiwork on holidays and on other special occasions.

“I’ve always loved to decorate,” she says.

A happy resident

Turner, who for two decades has photographed many of the events at the complex, didn’t know much about The Salvation Army when she retired at age 62. A neighbor told her about the Booth Residence. She loves the accessibility of the corps and senior center.

“They’ve always got something going on over there,” she said. “It’s a blessing. They’re nice people to get along with and they do everything for all the people in here.”

Childs is proud that a staff of 17 people oversee 246 residents each day.

“The goal for me is to keep these seniors living as independently as possible for as long as possible,” she said. “Most of them enjoy it here. There’s hope here.”

Not just a job

Amy Hutchison, manager of compliance at the Booth Residence, said every staffer is “called to be here and to serve as advocates.”

“I consider them as much my family as my own,” she said. “It’s important that we’re all here and helping in any way we can.

“It just feels like I’m supposed to be here. I have family and grandparents. I’ve always believed that you should treat them the way you want your family to be treated.”

Tracey Colvin–Stanton, certified occupancy specialist at the Booth Residence, said that positive attitude is what keeps most residents happy and content.

“This is definitely not the typical senior housing project,” she said. “There’s a lot to offer the seniors that most apartments in the community just don’t offer. They get to meet other people and if they don’t have family, the other residents become a part of their family.

Weekend getaway

“With the corps being right here and offering activities, it always gives residents something to do as opposed to being shut in an apartment without family or visitors. That’s something to be proud about. I just enjoy that God is in the center of it.”

Klenk said 20 seniors recently got away from Cincinnati for the weekend to Camp SWONEKY, where they went on a wagon ride, did crafts, and enjoyed praise and worship.

“We want to give them Christ, but also to give them an opportunity to be outside their four walls,” Klenk said. “It was a treasure to have them there that weekend and to brighten their lives.”

by Robert Mitchell

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