On Delmar just east of I-170, in two unassuming apartment buildings, seniors from all walks of life live peacefully together. “We have everyone here,” says Nikki Goldstein, executive director of the Gladys & Henry Crown Center for Senior Living. Although the center has Jewish roots—it was founded 50 years ago by six Jewish women from the NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women)—there’s a strong spirit of multiculturalism. “You hear Russian and Chinese here,” says Goldstein. “African-Americans are represented, and so are Native Americans … people from down the road and people from far away.”

obc-no-box-crown-center-10-5Founded in 1966 as the Delcrest with 144 affordable apartments for low-income seniors, it now has 244 units. In addition, Crown Center—a nonprofit—partners with The OASIS Institute, an organization that promotes lifelong health for people over 50 by providing inspiring, energizing programs to both residents and non-residents. “We are a community center,” Goldstein says, listing the variety of programs offered: moderately paced exercise classes, a bell choir and other musical performances, art in the new art studio, book clubs, Yiddish lessons, and sessions on things like applying for Social Security and Medicaid. In the new ‘culinary studio,’ residents learn how to toss pizza and can attend presentations by their neighbors on the foods of their native lands.

One of the most popular activities, however, is gardening, and it is here, especially, that the diversity of the community is evident. In many cases, the waist-high pots, each tended by a different resident, reflect their individual gardener’s origins, overflowing with tumbles of squash and bitter melon, or flowering with Asian vines. “There’s a discernible difference to the vegetation that grows in each pot,” says resident Beverly Rehfeld, who has lived at Crown for about a year. Communal, waist-high raised beds plotted by the group burgeon with tomatoes and herbs, corn and beans, eggplant and cucumbers. In the greenhouse, watering signs are written in English, Russian and Chinese, and trays of garlic sprouts and other little shoots wait their turn to be planted. “It keeps us active. We aren’t just sitting,” Rehfeld says, adding that all the planters are sized specifically to be accessible to movement-impaired seniors. She says although she isn’t a gardener herself, she’s a big promoter of the club. “The garden means so much to people here,” Rehfeld notes.

In the last year, the center has added a modern cafe, Circle@Crown, that serves espresso drinks and fresh Kosher fare. Some of the produce it uses comes directly from the garden. The cafe is open to everyone in the community, and Goldstein says it fills a niche in an area where food options are limited. “Come for coffee, stay for a class, have lunch!” she says, adding that residents receive a discount on food and drinks. “Our goal is to make sure everything is affordable here,” she says, explaining that the center does what it can to help people regardless of their ability to pay.

In addition to providing a rich environment that promotes independence and continued personal growth, Crown Center serves as a training site for graduate-level social work and public health students at Washington University’s Brown School.

The nonprofit hosts its 50-year celebration Nov. 6 at W.U.’s Hillman Hall. Money raised will help establish a senior assistance fund. “In keeping with our overall mission, it’s going to be a lovely, fun, meaningful event,” Goldstein says.

Pictured seated: Residents David Kean and Ladoris Payne. Standing: co-chair Lauren Sagel, honoree Nancy Morrow-Howell, co-chair and board member Darryl Sagel.
Photo: Sarah Carmody

Gladys & Henry Crown Center for Seniors is an ethnically blended community that provides affordable, high-quality living and services to people over 50. It hosts a 50-year celebration on Nov. 6 at Washington University’s Hillman Hall. Tickets are $100 per person. Pictured on the cover: Residents Guobin Chang and Beverly Rehfeld, event chair and board member Jeff Cohen, honoree Marylen Mann, founder of OASIS ; and resident Esme Gooding. For more information, call 314.991.2055.
Cover design by Julie Streiler | Cover photo courtesy of Waterworks

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