by Krista Madsen
“I think the original name is a key to our mission. ‘Civic’ implies a duty to be involved in the daily life of the community and be a positive force.”
— NH Board President Francesca Spinner
At the Senior Canteen, group president Creola Solomon cheerily spins the bingo cage. The dining room of Tarrytown’s Neighborhood House (NH) is sparser than usual since there’s a Thanksgiving feast at a local church to compete with, but that just means more room for everyone to spread out their six-or-so game cards. After they pledge to the flag and sing “God Bless America,” Eileen Plotkin gets up to tell her weekly PG joke, and the bingo begins. Of course, there’s cake and coffee – “You gotta lure them in somehow,” laughs program coordinator Karla Fazzino. Despite her efforts of pushing healthier fare, these seniors insist on their sweets.
Tarrytown’s Neighborhood House – now focused on services for seniors, from the 50-year-old canteen to the two-year-old nutrition program serving lunch – began as the Women’s Civic League in 1915. The site was a hub of various offerings for the community – a family dentist, a visiting nurse – and many social services “…which we now take for granted but had all been thought through by very caring people for a long time,” said NH Board President Francesca Spinner.
The original building was a house facing Wildey (which is why the place still holds a Wildey address); the current building was erected in its place and the name changed to The Neigbhoorhood House in 1976. This building once housed the village ambulances in its garage but the ambulances outgrew it. The Tarrytown Seniors also had their meetings here until their numbers got too big and they moved to what was a storage facility in Pierson Park.
The NH has always straddled both communities, and beyond, with its mission of welcoming all with a focus on health and lifetime learning. All the events are free and open to any senior.
“Tarrytowners can only go to the Tarrytown Senior Center and Sleepy Hollow to Sleepy Hollow; at least here they can mingle,” Fazzino said.
Several women playing bingo walk up from Valley Street and the College Avenue apartments. “It’s good to walk,” Plotkin said. “Good to walk but not cook,” she said, so she enjoys the Greenburgh-provided lunches daily ($3). She’s found friends here – “I know just about everybody” – since she moved to town two years ago from Yonkers. Plenty of others are lifers:
John Vlacancich, 97, also partakes of the hot lunch as he “never cooks; not even coffee.” He gets a bus ride here from Sleepy Hollow where he’s lived for almost 60 years, with his son nearby.
Betty Vivica, going on 93, has been here “all my life.” She remembers when the Tarrytown Seniors met here and enjoys “just being with people, getting out of the house.” She stands a chance of winning the “big-time money” at stake here today, she jokes, maybe $6-$7. Vivica recalls watching the first bridge go up (when her uncle was mayor and her sister marched in the bridge’s inaugural parade) “And now I’m lucky enough to see the second.”
Second only in popularity to the Canteen, which usually attracts up to 30 people and is the only ongoing event that requires a $10 annual membership, the weekly art group is thriving at about 15 folks each week. Instructor Chris Blatt generously guides attendees in whatever individual medium they are most interested in, which all culminates in a robust annual show at the Warner Library.
The chair yoga class is a hit with about 20 people at each session. “We try to promote healthy aging,” Fazzino said.
In the future, Spinner would like to see the NH further embracing its founding premise. “I think the original name is a key to our mission,” she said. “‘Civic’ implies a duty to be involved in the daily life of the community and be a positive force. This is my definition, but I certainly hope The Neighborhood House enriches the lives of its members and makes the community a special place,” she said. In the future, she hopes to be more involved with Chamber of Commerce events and cross-generational connections with various groups. Their basement currently serves as the home of the high school special needs department’s Independent Living Program, which trains students in everyday skills like doing laundry and making beds in rooms appointed like a house.
Soon the NH plans to start distributing its spirit and talents to various public locations around town in the form of vividly painted Adirondack chairs. First, back to bingo.
“I love everything that’s offered to us,” Solomon said. “Sometimes I’m here five days a week. I just love it.”
The Neighborhood House is located at 43 Wildey Street and can be reached for more info at (914) 631-0205.