Senior Community Services is 40 years old this year. Since he was at SCS when it began, Arthur Weisfeld must be slightly older than that, but his enthusiasm for his work befits a young man.
Arthur was the first and is thus far only executive director of Senior Community Services, the Folsom-based organization that runs four senior centers and provides various other services to seniors in their homes and at other locations in Delaware County. SCS now serves approximately 20,000 clients per year.
Weisfeld has spent his entire career in human services. The Penn State alumnus (class of 1969) found he enjoyed working with older people in his first job at the state’s Department of Public Assistance. He worked in Philadelphia at one of the first iterations of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. After getting his Masters in social services from Bryn Mawr College and working as a community organizer in Northwestern Philadelphia, Arthur heard of a paid internship (which were few and far between then) opening up at the just-founded Delaware County Office of Services to the Aging (COSA). Only county residents were eligible. He moved to Lansdowne and got the job. His assignment was to create a nonprofit agency to sponsor senior service centers that would be placed throughout the county.
The Darby Township Senior Center (now Good Neighbor Center) already existed. In 1977, Lansdowne/Yeadon (now Friendship Circle) Center and Ridley (now Schoolhouse) Center were opened. Chester Senior Center, which opened a new building in 1988, is the relative newcomer to this group, all of which are accredited by the National Institute of Senior Centers. The centers served as social hubs for Delco residents in underserved areas, and soon became much more than that.
“I’m proud of the buildings we’ve built and adapted, and I think we have a very positive culture,” Weisfeld said. “Employees enjoy working here, and clients keep coming back.”
Expanding Services and Outreach
Care management was an early addition to the SCS portfolio of services. With the addition of social workers based in the centers, SCS would grow to offer nutritional support, educational programs, and health promotion services. External initiatives and partnerships have addressed demonstrated needs through longterm care management services, the Hearing Discovery Center, the Center Without Walls Senior Center at Home, and Aging at Home Initiative. SCS also operates aging — related services such as the Caregiver Support Program, which helps families of seniors with the techniques and responsibilities of caregiving.
Continuous, manageable growth is a guiding strategy for the nonprofit. “We work to recognize and seize opportunities for new services,” Weisfeld said, citing as an example SCS’s acquisition of Horizons Unlimited’s cognitive stimulation program
Today, SCS’s office and the Schoolhouse Center are co-located in the former Folsom Elementary School at 600 Swarthmore Avenue. Notice that over the years, the branding has changed subtly — three of the four “senior centers” are now just “centers.” “Many people don’t want to go to a ‘senior center,’ Weisfeld says. “ Our clients don’t think of themselves as old, so we are always looking to add fresh programming, for instance, to include more art classes and trips, as well as scheduling our hours to appeal to clients who may be ‘pre-retirement.’
“Growing through fundraising is uncertain. The better way for us to grow is by generating income as we advance our mission,” he said, hence the emphasis at SCS on broadening its array of services.
Although Weisfeld notes that grantmaking is just a piece of the success formula, SCS has been favored by many foundation grants over the years. A recent grant from the Philadelphia Foundation will be applied to ensuring leadership continuity for SCS. Weisfeld said the foundation is concerned with building capacity of social support organizations. “There is a generational change under way. Nonprofit leaders who, like me, became active in social services in the 1970s are reaching retirement age,” Weisfeld said.
SCS engaged the Praxis Group with proceeds of the foundation grant, their charge, to study the potential avenues for leadership succession, both at the staff and board levels, and to plan change that allows SCS to keep adapting and providing services to county seniors.
Arthur himself has no immediate plans to retire. “My work is fulfilling, and endless. And 75 is the new 65,” he said.