Her deep slumber is suddenly interrupted when a blaring alarm rings across the room. She rubs her eyes and checks the clock on the night-table beside her bed. 5:30 a.m. Carmen Díaz quickly wakes up and heads towards the bathroom to complete her usual morning routine: She brushes her teeth, takes a shower, applies light makeup and changes into her outfit for the day.
Another weekday is ahead of her, but, as always, she looks forward to it. She then heads to her favorite place — the Basilio Huertas Senior Center.
Located on East Fourth Street, the Basilio Huertas Senior Center provides South Side community members over the age of 60 with the opportunity to engage in educational, social and recreational activities that promote health and well-being.
Services include free legal consultations, food assistance, healthcare aid, bingo and domino tournaments, dance classes and exercise classes. Often overlooked, the low-income elderly South Side community lacks the resources and attention necessary to live sustainable and independent lives after retirement.
“When you get to a certain age, it’s not good to stay home,” Díaz said. “The best thing to do is come to the (senior) center because here, you mingle with other people. We talk, we laugh, we have breakfast in the morning…it’s just a good place to be.”
The Basilio Huertas Senior Center was established 50 years ago as a department within the Lehigh Valley Hispanic Center. The growing Latino South Side community faced rejection and struggled to obtain the assistance and resources it needed. To combat this issue, the Hispanic Center was created in effort to provide universal aid to specific groups within the Latino community.
Díaz has been a resident of the South Side for 15 years and has frequently visited the senior center for 10 years. Her favorite activities include playing bingo, crocheting, listening to modern Hispanic music and dancing. The Basilio Huertas Senior Center helps keep Díaz and another 119 South Side seniors active within the local community.
Nahara Rodríguez, Senior Center Program Coordinator, believes the senior center is an essential asset within the South Side because it grants senior citizens the attention and endearment they crave to live endurable lives.
“(The senior center) makes such a difference because most of these seniors don’t really have family here anymore, so once they find this program, we become their family,” Rodríguez said. “We bring the resources, love and care that they are looking for and need.”
Rodríguez stresses that because the elderly South Side community suffers from a variety of mental health complications, the senior center makes continuous efforts to walk them through their feelings.
Rodríguez said that a lot of people within the senior center suffer from depression, separation anxiety and PTSD
“They have so many issues and no one to talk to, so we are here as a community to say we care, we are here for you, and whatever you need, we’re trying,” Rodríguez said.
Victoria Montero, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Hispanic Center, believes that the Basilio Huertas Senior Center greatly improves the overall quality of life for South Side’s elderly community.
“This is a place where they get together with friends, with family and celebrate their culture and aging together,” Montero said. “This is improving their overall mental, physical and emotional health, which is very important to not only us but the overall community.”
Ramonita García has been an everyday member of the senior center since she moved to the South Side 45 years ago. Her favorite resource is the community team building sessions, where all of the seniors gather as a group and talk through their sentiments and issues with one another.
García relies on the Basilio Huertas Senior Center not only for the services they provide but for ongoing support.
“This is like my second home,” García said. “When I don’t come, I get really sad.”
Despite its popularity among the elderly South Side community, the Basilio Huertas Senior Center still lacks the funding it needs to provide a wider range of services. Rodríguez is currently working on fundraising ideas in hopes of building sustainable economic support. She encourages local community members to help in any way they can, whether it be through volunteering at the center, monetary donations, engaging with the fundraisers or simply spreading the word.
“Growing up, I didn’t have a chance to be with my grandparents, and that was like a void in my life,” Rodríguez said. “The fact that I have 120 seniors to love just makes me very happy.”