JCC programs adapt after move to new Arts and Education building


Once the weather warms a bit more, Wayne Nienhaus is looking forward to a good crop of geraniums and impatiens.

“There’s space for everyone to have some plants out there who wants to,” said the 71-year-old retired school teacher who resides in Ballwin.

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“I’m one of those who wants to,” he adds with a smile.

Nienhaus’s ability to explore his floral talents represents just one small example of the expanded options for participants at the new Adult Day Center at the J. Previously known as Adult Day Services, the program moved into its present surroundings at the Staenberg Family Complex at the beginning of this month leaving its longtime location in the Covenant Chai Building. The program’s new home is nestled on the bottom floor of the arts and education building, a 60,000-square-foot section of the old JCC facility that was stripped down and reborn as part of the $23-million complex which was unveiled last year. Sections of the arts and education structure began reopening in January.

The center, which is primarily funded by the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging and the Jewish Federation, provides a wide variety of activities and meals to dozens of area seniors like Nienhaus. Some come from their own homes or apartments but others arrive from residential care facilities. A few have also been transplanted from the small Cedars at the JCA adult day services program, which was recently discontinued.

“Certainly, the space is much nicer looking, much more attractive,” said Deborah Ellis, the center’s director. “It’s a more useable space in that we really have a central area which is a dining/large group activity room and then everything is surrounding that.”

The relocation to the JCC facility has meant not just a better layout but also more space and access to eight bathrooms, which has allowed the program’s license to expand from 40 to 50 clients. Given the square footage, Ellis said the center could easily be approved for even more participants, should it become necessary.

She noted that Nienhaus may not be alone in his desire to garden and the move has allowed her to set aside an area for those who want to do some planting. A walking path is already available in the small outdoor enclave. Patio furniture seems the next logical step.

“This is an area where I envision having some tables and chairs where people can come out and play card games or just sit outside and have a cup of tea,” she said. “I’m also looking at getting some hummingbird feeders.”

Another big advantage of more space is an increase in activities. The additional room allows clients a selection of three, rather than two programs at any given time.

“The thing I like is that this arrangement is more conducive to doing small groups,” said activity director Audrey Schneider, who has been with the program for eight years. “We can be more person-centered with the participants. We can offer more activities at the same time and have participants make choices.”

Ellis said that’s an important boost to the center’s basic mission.

“We don’t want to say, this is what we’re doing today and this is what you are going to do,” she said. “We’re really making more opportunities available and the additional space has helped us with that.”

Marie Wolfsberger, 88, said she enjoys the increased selection of entertainment, which range from sing-a-longs to board games.

“They make me feel like I’ve got someplace to be,” said the Rock Hill resident who has been confined to a wheelchair on and off since a fall a decade and a half ago. “I’m treated so well by everyone here. It’s so comfortable being around people my own age.”

Susan Signorino, a social worker at the center, loves the level of interactivity the new set up provides.

“What I like is that we can see everybody,” she said. “We’re all in the same area. Before it was all separate rooms. It’s nice to see what’s going on.”

Those aren’t the only advantages to the program’s new digs. Location is an important key.

“We have the exposure and the relationship with the J that we’ve always had but we were so isolated not being in same facility,” said Susan Kaplansky, director of adult programs and services at the JCC. “Now, not only are we more visible but it also helps the staff to feel more a part of the whole J community in a way that was difficult before.”

That includes access to the fitness center, the St. Luke’s physical therapy area and the walking track. Retired bookkeeper Mary Whitney, 73, exercises two or three times a week at the JCC and likes that the she’s in the same building as the workout facility.

She also enjoys the meals served in the Adult Day Center.

“In the old building, food used to sit in this big thing waiting to be served,” said Whitney, a resident of unincorporated St. Louis County. “Here, it comes right from the kitchen so it’s warmer when you get it.”

Meals for center participants now arrive through a convenient pass-through window to the dining/activity area. On the other side are two kosher kitchens employed by the JCC to serve 400 meals a day, five days a week to everyone from Day Center participants to toddlers at the Early Childhood facility.

“It’s brand new and it’s beautiful,” said Linda Korn, nutrition supervisor. “The challenge for us was getting used to working in two totally different kitchens.”

It’s a challenge Korn likes to have. Before the March 1 relocation, her program had only a meat kitchen. Now the dual facility allows menus to offer dairy menus on alternating days. The kitchens even prepare meals for off-site consumption including Covenant dinners, home deliveries to seniors and Early Childhood meals at the Fox Building in Chesterfield.

The transition hasn’t been difficult, she said.

“We’re doing fine,” Korn said. “It was a lot of work getting everything settled and moved. We had a lot of supplies and things coming in because we were starting a dairy kitchen which we had not had before.”

Kaplansky said overall the move has gone great for the entire department.

“I think we’ve settled in great,” she said. “I think the staff has done a fabulous job of making this a seamless transition for everybody.