The Educational Alliance, one of the Lower East Side’s oldest social service organizations, has provided senior programming for generations. In some ways, not much has changed. But in a recent visit to the Weinberg Center for Balanced Living, we learned that both the population and the programs are transforming at a rapid pace.
In a popular twice-a-week painting class, you’ll find Audrey Rosenberg, a longtime resident of the Hillman Co-op on Grand Street, working on a new landscape. But across the aisle, you’ll also see Jean Sun, who just found the Educational Alliance about a year ago after moving to New York from California to live with her daughter.
Karen Taylor, director of the Weinberg Center, said the number of Asians in the organization’s programs has almost quadrupled. Today, more than half of all participants, adults 60+ taking advantage of a daily lunch program and more than 30 activities each week, has risen to 55%. The recent renovation of the Educational Alliance’s main building at 197 East Broadway may have attracted some new members. But Taylor said the biggest factor is likely the closure of the Salvation Army’s senior center on the Bowery, which caused many local seniors in Chinatown to seek out new programs.
The Weinberg Center is part of the larger Manny Cantor Center. Executive Director Joanna Samuels said the arts programming is built around the philosophy “that you learn something new at any age.” Two years ago, Audrey Rosenberg explained, she “knew nothing about art and wasn’t even interested in art.” But she stopped by one day to pick up her husband and was told by the instructor, “If you’re in my class, you have got to paint.” Rosenberg was hooked. Jean Sun said she looks forward to the class every week. “It gives me an opportunity to express myself,” she said.
Barbara Slitkin, an art teacher at the Educational Alliance since 1997, noted that the class is “growing by leaps and bounds,” so much so that it’s not always possible to find a place for everyone to work. “Confidence building is my main job,” she explained, adding that people in her classes must often learn to cast away past experiences and teach themselves “how to see” as an artist.
In celebration of Older Americans Month, the annual Older Artists Exhibition recently opened in the gallery of the Educational Alliance. Have a look at some of the pieces in the show: