By Igor Studenkov | Bugle Staff
Evanston-based Mather Lifeways and Oak Park-based AgeOptions have teamed up to provide a place where residents “age 60 or better” can come to eat a healthy lunch, socialize and enjoy some fun activities – at no charge.
The program was created to serve low-income seniors in Skokie and its surrounding suburbs. While staff does ask for some information the first time a person attends, there are no actual admission requirements. Area residents can come in weekdays between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. A suggested donation of $1 isn’t required either.
Mather started out as an operator of retirement communities. It has since diversified, offering a wide variety of programs in Chicago and its suburbs. Among other offerings, it runs programs for seniors at the Morton Grove Civic Center.
Kat Paz, Mather’s director of community programs, said the organization’s goal is to try to offer something for people 60 and over no matter where they live or what their needs are.
AgeOptions works to provide resources to seniors who want to live independently. The organization determined that Skokie had a very high number of low-income seniors.
Spencer Harstead, a nutrition specialist with AgeOptions, said it was simply a matter of finding the right organization to partner with.
“[Mather Lifeways] was looking to do a project in the area, and we were looking to [do something there] for a long time,” he said.
The two organizations wound up setting up a meal program for residents of Skokie and surrounding suburbs. In addition to providing healthy, tasty meals, the program would give attendees a place to socialize and make connections. The Ethical Humanist Society agreed to let Mather use its building, located at 7574 N. Lincoln Ave.
Paz said the location is ideal because it is close to several apartment buildings with large senior populations. It was also close to public transportation; Pace bus 210 stops nearby, and CTA Route 97 and the Yellow ‘L’ Line’s Oakton-Skokie station are within walking distance. CTA Route 54A also stops near the building, but it only operates during rush hours.
The building itself has several features that make it well suited for the type of program being offered by Mather Lifeways and AgeOptions.
“It’s a beautiful space,” said Paz. “There are no stairs, [everything] is on one level. There is a parking lot; there are rooms for programs.”
Paz said the program, which officially launched in April, started out slow, but there has since been progress. According to her and Harstead, their respective organizations are happy with the way the attendance has been trending.
“I’m actually very happy that we are getting close to 20 residents per day,” said Harstead. “We didn’t expect it. Everyone who [attended] left with the positive word about the program, so we can’t ask for more then that.”
Paz said the dining space could fit up to 75 people. The Bugle stopped by during a June 15 Open House, and over the course of two hours, there were usually between six and eight people in the dining space at the time.
Jennifer Begovis, who handles most of the day-to-day aspects with the assistance of an intern, said attendance varies.
“[Each day], we set up for about 21 people,” she said. “The most people we had per day was 21. We want everyone to feel very welcome, very comfortable.”
According to a copy of the June menu, three things that are consistent every day are whole wheat bread, 2 percent milk and juice, and fruit options. The rest of the menu changes daily. On June 15, the menu featured BBQ turkey, whole grain pasta and Italian green beans; June 16’s menu offered chicken fajitas, Spanish rice and black beans.
Begovis said everyone is welcome to stay as long as they want.
“Everyone is welcome to stay and chat, or they can just eat and leave; whatever they’re comfortable with,” Begovis added.
The program already offers more then just food. When the Bugle visited, several seniors were playing cards in the activity room.
Paz said they will soon offer blood pressure screenings, and Mather is working to bring in speakers and arrange other activities.
All of the seniors who spoke to the Bugle said they were happy with the program.
Mary-Ann Zehner, of Niles, was playing cards with other attendees. She said it was her second time attending, and she would happily come back again.
“I like it very much,” said Zehner. “Their help is most appreciated.”
Evie Ross, of Morton Grove, and Ellen Rosenblatt, of Skokie, became friends through the program.
“I think it’s very good,” said Ross. “They have very healthy food, and the help here is very nice. The only problem is that they don’t have any public transportation.”
Currently, Route 210 serves a portion of Morton Grove, running along Linlcoln Avenue, Dempster Street and Waukegan Road. Route 250, which serves Dempster Street, stops at Dempster-Skokie Yellow Line ‘L’ station. Route 208 serves Golf Road, and riders would need to make at least two transfers to get to the Humanist Society building.
Rosenblatt joined her friend in the praise.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she siad. “I think the meals are marvelous, and the people are very friendly and social. And, they welcome you here. I made new friends, like Evie.”