“…it’s all about stability. We provide these seniors with a reason to live.”

In 1989, Denise King was walking down the street in Chicago’s southside neighborhood of Englewood when she heard what she thought might be a party. She put her face up to the window of the building: inside she saw seniors from her community enjoying lunch, playing games, and sharing conversation. A woman inside named Ada Niles spotted Denise, and invited her to take a tour of the senior center. Shortly after, Denise was hired as an employee.

Twenty-eight years later, she is the site director, and the center is named after Ada. 

For many years, Catholic Charities has been providing a place for seniors to come together for social, educational, and nutritional activities that promote healthy aging. The Ada S. Niles Adult Senior Center is one of those facilities, and celebrates 35 years in 2017. 

Ada, a retired beautician, advocated for the creation of the center when she discovered there was no place seniors felt welcome in her neighborhood. She enlisted the help of Catholic Charities and other organizations to secure funding and day-to-day operation. Ada passed away at age 81 in 1990, and was honored in Chicago newspapers as “an advocate for the elderly.”

Denise said she was compelled to get more involved because of Ada’s enthusiasm and the seniors’ love for the center. 

“They all had a story about how Catholic Charities had helped them, and it helped me to realize everything that Catholic Charities does. And we do a lot,” she said.

The senior centers provide healthy and nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch and allow seniors to remain independent but avoid isolation. The fitness classes are a client favorite, and Denise said she’s seen many clients transform as they visit with personal trainers and take tap dance, African dance, and Tai Chi classes. They also refer clients to other services they might need, like clothing closets, food pantries, and social workers. For many, Denise said, the lunch program they offer may be the only meal they eat that day.

“For the older residents of Englewood, it’s all about stability. We provide these seniors with a reason to live,” Denise said. “I don’t know what a lot of people would do without us.”
One of the regulars is Clara Johnson, who’s been coming to the center to volunteer and utilize the services for 33 years.

“It’s very nice for someone to come here and enjoy themselves instead of sitting in their house being alone,” Clara said. “This place feels like our home.” 

When Denise comes into work each day, she hears the roar of the residents – laughing, talking, and playing games, just as they did back on the fateful day she passed by in 1989.

“I playfully tell them to quiet down,” she said. “But they just laugh back at me. They tell me they’re being loud because they’re having fun.”