For 14 years, Gert Town Community Development Center has been instrumental in helping to enhance the total quality of life for residents in the Gert Town and surrounding community. They’ve advocated on behalf of issues of illegal dumping, education, blight and the return of recreational opportunities for youth and seniors.
“Guess how old I am! Guess!” insists Helen Lee. “91. I was born 1924. Yes I am. And I’m slow as a turtle.”
Helen Lee sits at a crowded round table in the fellowship hall of the Greater King Solomon Baptist Church. It’s on a quiet block of Audubon Street in Gert Town. Though Mrs. Lee claims to be slow, she keeps busy. Right now, a game of Chicken Foot is about to begin.
“This is Chicken Foot,” explains Donna Allen. “And the object of the game is to stop her from going out. She has the main bone.”
The “bones” look similar to dominoes, but they’re white.
“I’m the sneaky one. I like to win,” proclaims Allen, a 65-year-old volunteer at the Gert Town Senior Program. “I taught ‘em all these strategy. Wait now. If she loses I win, so I’m trying to concentrate. Sister White taught us the game one Easter at the park. We used to do bingo, but chicken foot took over. So the bingo game is gathering dust right now.”
“I call this group: JOY. The acronym for Just Older Youth,” says Emily White, the director of the Senior Center, which is part of the Gert Town Community Development Center.
"Just being together, being able to share,” exclaims White. “We talk about everything, from religious to world events. We’re just engaged in conversation.”
But they’re engaged in much more than conversation.
"Last year we went to DC on the train” explains White. “If it had not been for us organizing it here, that would not have happened. Next year we’re going to New York in April on the train again. They’re pretty excited about that because some of them have never been to New York.”
Rose Franklin is 70 and a retiree from New Orleans Child Protection Services. “It’s just my favorite part of the day” says Franklin, “I’m not a television person so I was home doing nothing. I enjoy the people, I enjoy going to the Xavier art center.”
Xavier University, where the seniors take ceramics, is just a few blocks away. It’s a very popular activity among the seniors.
“I met the clay, the clay met my hands, we all fell in love,” says 80-year-old Margaret Gibbons. "I set up a studio at home. I work on my dining room table. We got a love affair going on.”
"We've noticed that we’ve had seniors that have had medical issues that have a new lease on life,” says Reverend Kaseem Short, the Executive Director of the Gert Town Community Development Center. He says having a program to be a part of — sometimes under doctor’s orders — gives these seniors an extended community. But it gives the community something, too.
"I think the longer we have this wisdom in our presence, it does something for the community. We can draw a lot from our seniors, and their knowledge, their expertise, their successes, their failures.”