Credits: Photos by Jessica Kourkounis — Audio by Therese Madden
John Baker spent most of his professional life as a banker- when the bank where he worked failed he saw this as an opportunity to pursue his lifelong passion- music. We visited him while he was recording a CD of Westminster Choir at Saint George's Church in New York City. The 62 year old Baker doesn't mind working in a cramped office space at the old church while the choirs voices soar in collective harmony right next door.
William Baker is more familiar with a prison cell than with a home. He's lived the chaotic life of a drug dealer and addict for so long, that with sobrietry, he had to relearn how to use his time in a productive way. Now in his fifties, Baker has made a commitment to helping others on the road to recovery and is using art as one of his tools. Aside from his day job he's studying for a bachelor's degree in psychology.
87 year old Ruth Balter has been a peace activist most of her life, she's also a very energetic Grandmother. Four years ago, Balter and a couple of other like minded women got together and formed the Granny Peace Brigade of Philadelphia. The group, who often refer to themselves as simply "the Grannies", work to discourage military recruitment in schools, knit socks for disabled veterans and march for peace.
As a Park Ranger in Philadelphia's Independence National Historic Park, Joe Becton shared his passion for history with visitors. He retired early, but continues to give tours- this time focusing on giving a voice to African American history. Whether showing the Liberty Bell or gathering with other African American Civil War re-enactors, Becton stays in character- and is always dressed in the fashions of the day.
It took almost a lifetime for Joe Beyer to fullfil a passion from childhood. For the past eighty some years, Beyer, an engineer, has managed to stay close to airplanes. Now after raising four children, surviving the death of his spouse of fifty years and achieving a fulfilling career, he is finally flying ... a glider. He also volunteers at least 15 hours a week at The Philadelphia Glider Council in Hilltown, Pennsylvania.
Jane Brooks and Joyce Burd
Jane Brooks and Joyce Burd are longtime friends. So after raising their respective families and succeeding in their careers, they wanted to do something meaningful together. They decided to combine their skills, Jane as a writer and Joyce as an arts administrator, to bring ballroom dancing to 5th grade classrooms in Philadelphia. We visit them at this year's final competition at Temple University.
Iris Brown and Tomasita Romero
In the middle of a neighborhood garden in North Philadelphia's Norris Square sits a casita, a little house painted in bright colors, just as it would be in rural Puerto Rico. This gathering place is the handiwork of two community gardeners, Iris Brown and Tomasita Romero, who along with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, have built 6 gardens as little oasis in a rather blighted area.
Theresa BrownGold is a documentary portrait painter; she uses her art to explore social issues. Her current topic is the health care system. By the end of this series she will have painted at least 100 portraits that were inspired by 100 different health care stories. You can view more of Theresa's work on her website at artassocialinquiry.org.
When Jack Burch's son married a Chinese American woman he wanted to communicate with his daughter-in-law's family. The only classes he found were geared towards Chinese people wanting to learn English. He signed up anyway and in the process discovered a love for teaching. So after retiring as a mechanical engineer, Burch started a store front school in Chinatown to help people learn English and pass the citizenship test.
South Philadelphia native Blanche Burton-Lyles has been around music her whole life. Her mother played piano, her father sang bass and her neighbor was the great contralto Marian Anderson. A renown classical pianist herself, Burton-Lyles credits much of her success to Anderson who became her mentor. To preserve her legacy, she bought Marian Anderson's house and converted it into a historical site and museum.
It's not uncommon in these times to see successful thrift shops. For the past nine years Al Chagan, has decided to apply his entrepreneurial skills to managing thrift stores and distributing the earnings to Montgomery County charities. His non-for-profit is run like a business and provides jobs for 95 people. Now in his late sixties, Chagan says he's never felt more fulfilled and retirement is not even a consideration.
It takes energy and perseverance to be a teacher. So when Helen Clavon retired after 31 years in the classroom she realized wasn't getting much exercise. She wanted to dance and learned tap and line-dancing. Always active in her community Clavon knew that other seniors were looking for something that would combine fun, a sense of community and good health. She joined a line dance group and is now booking their performances at rehab centers and nursing homes.
Mary Seton Corboy
Mary Seton Corboy has spent the last 13 years building a farm on a former industrial site in Philadelphia. Now, in addition to growing fresh food, she is determined to make locally grown produce accessible for some of her lower income neighbors . Seton Corboy, has launched a low income CSA- or Community Supported Agriculture program, where every week people can get a large box of fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable price.
Ethel J. David
Ethel J. David just celebrated her 93rd birthday. Determined to make it to one hundred or more, David goes to work every day, volunteers and writes poetry. She says her longevity is fueled by an insatiable curiosity and the ability to notice the beauty in things.
Fernande Davis spent 23 years as a French teacher. She's now retired, but still finds herself in classrooms on occasion. Only now, instead of conjugating verbs, her time is spent discussing her experiences as a member of the Belgian underground resistance in World War 2.
As a dancer, LaDeva Davis has been sharing her love of the arts with audiences and students alike, and has been teaching kids in Philadelphia for more than four decades. She says it is her work that keeps her young.
For years, Tobey Dichter had been noticing that although using the internet and checking emails was routine for her, this was not so for many people over 65. She decided to do something about making technology accessible and inviting. Dichter went on to help create a software program for older adults to simplify the internet and open the doors to the ether world.
Albert Doering's viola had been sitting in a closet for the past 50 years, but after raising a family and retiring as a lawyer he decided to retrieve the instrument and start again. He found a teacher and joined a few bands, his favorite is a volunteer group of musicians who rehearse every week at the West Chester Senior Center.
Ed and Fred
Ed Chun and Fred Lewis spend their days alongside the creeks and streams in Fairmount Park. They're members of the Senior Environment Corp which was formed 11 years ago. Though they're united by their interest in preserving the environment, their individual histories are quite different.
After retiring as a caretaker for patient in mental institutions, Joe Edwards realized he missed being of help to others. So now, he volunteers five days a week at the Philadelphia Senior Center assisting his fellow seniors citizens with paperwork. There's another angle to his commitment to service: to instill the value of helping others, Edwards has brought two of his grandchildren into the act.
The Elder Wisdom Circle
Each week, a group of residents in an assisted living facility in Doylestown, Pennsylvania gather together to listen to other people's problems. They are part of the Elder Wisdom Circle. The seniors collectively come up with advice for young people who write anonymous emails about their troubles.
For Edie Elkan the sound of the harp is both inspiring and uplifting. More than 30 years ago she had to abandon her dream of being a professional harpist to make a living. Now, she's reconnected with the instrument and teaches others to use its' healing powers. Elkan and her colleagues play little harps while walking through hospital halls stopping to give impromptu concerts at patients' bedsides.
Derek Felton knows enough about hunger from personal experience to run a food pantry in West Philadelphia. He also work as a community organizer for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. Felton sees food as a tool to bring people together for more than physical sustenance.
It's not unusual to find groups of people, particularly men, talking passionately about sports. Jack Fisher's love of sports has taken him from broadcasting to running talking groups. In his retirement, Fisher decided to share his passion and knowledge with the community. He's the regular host of "Sports Talk". Fisher facilitates a group of men with disabilities who get together twice a month at the Easter Seals Center in New Castle, Delaware and talk about sports.
Gladys Flamer likes to drive her Cadillac in Coatesville, PA. Nothing unusual about that, except that she's 103 years old and she uses her car to help people with no transportation. Flamer has had many jobs; from serving as a domestic for wealthy families, to becoming a nurse at age 59. She's worked in steel mill and owned a beauty shop. The centenarian retired from the work world when she reached 90, but has not stopped serving her community. She's active on City Council, with her church and in her neighborhood.
Chances are that many of the social activists of the 1960's have kept the flame alive. That's the story of community activist Frank Fulbrook, who has dedicated most of his life to making Camden, New Jersey a better place to live and work.
Linda Dubin Garfield
Linda Dubin Garfield worked for 38 years as a school guidance counselor, while always keeping her lifelong passion for art at a low flame. Now in retirement she is finally being the artists she wanted to be. Always the educator she is also teaching about how to unleash creativity. We visited Linda at an Old City bookstore where she's leading a mixed media workshop as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
GE Senior Volunteers
What happens when you put a group of retired engineers together? They tinker and fix things and they find a good reason to do so. Twice weekly a group of former General Electric employees repair cassette recorder supplied by the Library of Congress. The refurbished "talking book machines" are distributed to the blind and physically handicapped.
Rabbi Jonathan Gerard
After 33 years of service, Rabbi Jonathan Gerard retired from his congregation two years ago . Since then, he's been writing, teaching and counseling couples. He also spends two days a week at Graterford, Pennsylvania's largest maximum security prison. In addition to ministering Jewish prisoners, Rabbi Gerard spends time with prisoners of all faiths and backgrounds - including those on death row.
After becoming paralyzed in an accident, Juliet Goodfriend decided to put her energy and her considerable knowledge about marketing strategies, into something she really cared about. When she learned the old Bryn Mawr movie theater was going to be turned into a health club, she wanted to save it. It's now a thriving art movie house and a learning center.
Retirement hasn't dampened Vietnam Veteran Ron Hathaway's sense of duty to his fellow soldiers. As a member of the New Jersey Mission of Honor, Hathaway and a group of like- minded veterans live by their motto "never again will one generation of veterans abandon another".
When he retired after a long successful career in retail business, Ralph Hunter didn't imagine he'd end up running a museum. But that's just what he's doing. Hunter is the founder and director of The African American Heritage Museum Of Southern New Jersey.
Robb Hutter has been an actor most of his life. But when he turned 50 he decided it was time to teach his craft to children. It was not to be, on the first day of class he pulled a muscle playing tag. It was while talking to the senior citizens he met in physical therapy. that Hutter realized that for him, teaching people over 65 was much more fulfilling... and relevant.
In Dorothy Johnson-Spreight's life there definitely a before and an after. The dividing line was a tragedy in her family: the murder of her son Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson. As a family therapist specializing in grief and loss counseling. Spreight never though that it would apply to her. Now she's taken both her personal and professional experiences to guide others towards healing.
The idea behind the program Ready Willing and Able is to give homeless people a place to live and work. The program has helped over 3,000 men and women become drug free and self sufficient. LeeRoy Jordan is the program director for Ready Willing and Able in Philadelphia and he has a deep understanding of where the residents are coming from.
Marylea Perot Klauder
When Marylea Perot Klauder started developing asthma she quit her job as a waitress in a smoky restaurant. In search of the great outdoors she started volunteering at the Fort Washington State Park where she created the Militia Hill Hawk Watch. Now in it's 22nd year, it's a major attraction for the birders of the region. And the park itself has transformed into a meeting place for people who share Klauder's love of nature.
Edna Kotrola has led a rich life of work, travel and family, but when debilitating pain forced her to quit her job, she decided to redirect her life to fight depression. So she founded Quilts for Comfort, an organization that makes quilts for sick children and adults. After she cuts the fabric and designs the quilts, Edna organizes monthly quilting bees at which volunteers sew together. The group has made more than 6,000 quilts. We visited her at a quilting bee in Wilmington, Delaware.
There's something about drumming that connect people all over the world. It's described in many cultures as a form of collective heartbeat. The myriad drumming styles and instruments has given musician Ron Kravitz his own voice and a sense of community.
Mark Lyons was a Physicians Assistant for 35 years. He worked in clinics in North Philadelphia and tended to migrant farm workers in New Jersey. In the process, he became interested in their stories and started collecting them first on paper, later with recording equipment. When he retired, he traded in his stethoscope for a microphone.
Thirty years ago, Brenda Malinics was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She survived surgery and found a new appreciation for living every day to the fullest. Malinics works full time at Temple University's School of Pharmacy but she has added another full time job: she volunteers to help animals, wild and domesticated.
When Carmen Matus retired and moved in with her daughter she decided she had time and energy to help in the Latino community. For the past 6 years Matus has been going to work with her daughter at Congreso de Latinos Unidos in North Philadelphia.
Painter Sarah McEneaney has lived in the same Philadelphia neighborhood for over 30 years. With her neighbors, she has founded the Reading Viaduct Project. They are working to turn an unused elevated train track near her home, just north of Chinatown into an urban green space, similar to New York City's Highline.
Men of Tustin
A group of men in the Overbrook section of West Philadelphia are trying to make a difference in the neighborhood where they grew up. They are called the Men of Tustin- after the Tustin Recreation Center where they meet weekly and mentor children after school. The men work at a variety of professions - what they have in common is their past- and a hope for a brighter future.
Donna Miller loves food, she loves teaching kids how to cook even more. So after working for almost 3 decades in a corporate environment Miller took a pay cut and changed direction to pursue her passion. She became an administrator and archivist at a historic church to pursue her volunteer work. Miller runs an after school program where high school students do there homework, play games, and cook dinner.
These days, Frederick Noesner spends most of his time in the court yard of the Betsy Ross house in Philadelphia's Old City. There, along with his service dog Juniper, he carves cow horns into containers for storing gunpowder. In his retirement Noesner says, he has found fulfillment in being able to teach what some craftsmen did during colonial times.
Walter Palmer has led a very busy life. His experiences as a civil rights activist, an athlete, an artist and a lawyer have prepared him for his true calling- that of an educator. We visit him at the school he founded, the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School in Philadelphia, on the last day of the school year.
A couple of times a month, Bill Pelle visits retired psychologist Allan Howland. They go out for a meal, to the theater or just for a walk. Twenty years separate the two men in age - a program called Connecting Generations has brought them together. It's designed to help gay and lesbians avoid the isolation that often accompanies aging.
Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society
The baseball team, the Philadelphia Athletics played their last season in 1954, but a group of faithful fans run a small museum in Hatboro, Pennsylvania to ensure the team won't be forgotten.
Bob Pierson is on his third full time career. The farmer and director of Farm to City, he's been organizing farmers markets in Philadelphia for the past 13 years. Pierson travels from market to market on his vintage english bicycle.
ReClam the Bay
Every Friday morning, a group of men and women , mostly retirees, gather by the bay in Barnegat Light, New Jersey to check on their "babies". Baby clams and oysters that is. This group of environmental stewards, organized by Rutgers University, want to help repopulate the bay and reclaim it for future generations.
June Robbins learned about laughter as the best antidote for hardship during the Great Depression. That realization stayed with her though several jobs including being a naval draftsman in World War II. Now a great grandmother, Robbins volunteers as a clown for the Spiffy Clown troop which performs at school, hospitals and nursing homes.
Roebling Museum Volunteers
Roebling, N.J., one of the first company towns in the United States, was built around the steel mill where most of the people worked. Though the mill has been closed since 1974, some of the lifelong residents have created the Roebling Museum, which is dedicated to the role the town played in the American Industrial Revolution -- including the production of the wire cables used for many of the country's most famous suspension bridges.
In general, creativity in art requires the use of all senses. So when painter Carol Saylor noticed a steep decline in her eyesight she turned to sculpture. Even with the realization that she was also becoming deaf, Saylor never lost her desire for making art or sharing her work with others.
After retiring as school teachers Diane Elliot and Kathy Sadowski decided to work with horses. They volunteer at Special Equestrians, a therapeutic horseback riding program for children and adults with disabilities. They're also learning how to ride.
At 55, Dave Scheiner decided to stop practicing podiatry to follow his love of basketball and his passion for education. He's the assistant coach for the Community College of Philadelphia's basketball team. Dave Scheiner's goal is to lead his team to victory both on and off the court.
No doubt, Americans love their cars. Dr. Fred Simeone is no exception. He's been collecting racing sports cars for over 50 years. When he retired from medicine, Simeone decided it was time to share his collection with the public. He sees the cars as both objects of beauty and as a tool to educate young people about the spirit of competition. His unusual collection is at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum near the Philadelphia Airport.
Linda Slodki and Arleen Olshan
Throughout the years, Philadelphia's Mount Airy neighborhood has built a reputation as a place for diversity and creativity. Two long time residents are contributing to the mix by founding The Mount Airy Arts Garage, a place to showcase the artists of northwest Philadelphia.
Bob Smith has always been a seeker. His endless curiosity translated into a successful career as a journalist, editor and writer. But was not quite enough, he says. Chance and his family helped him change directions and he found his calling in religion and service to the community. At 61, Bob Smith was ordained in the Episcopal Church and now leads the congregation of the Memorial Church of The Good Shepherd in Philadelphia.
Darlene and William Smith
For the past 30 years Darlene Branch-Smith and her husband William Smith have lived in the same Philadelphia neighborhood. They watched abandoned properties being bought and fixed up and condos springing up where empty lots once stood. After a debilitating form of cancer forced Darlene to retire, the Smith's decided to focus on bringing neighbors together and helping preserve open space. They were instrumental in creating a community park named after African American architect Julian Abele.
Every Friday afternoon it's cabaret time at the Stiffel Senior Center in South Philadelphia. Nothing, not even the recent news that the Center will be closing in the summer of 2011, will stop it's members from singing, dancing... and hoping it won't be their last cabaret.
First as a nun and then as an Episcopal priest, Marie Swayze was looking for ways to translate her spiritual beliefs, into practical acts of compassion to help the less fortunate. When she noticed that the people coming to her church's food pantry needed more than food, she teamed up with Dr Lorna Stuart and founded "The Clinic" in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Now in its seventh year, the Clinic provides free or "pay what you can" health services to the uninsured. Swayze sees this as the culmination of her life's work.
Joe and Ellen Tiberino met as young artists, they married and had 4 children. Ellen passed away 18 years ago, after a long battle with cancer. Joe and the now adult children have made their West Philadelphia home- consisting of 5 victorian houses and 10 backyards- into a museum in her honor and a gathering place for artists.
Freyda Thomas grew up in the world of entertainment. As a singer, her repertoire ranged from popular standards to Broadway tunes. At one point she had to let go of her stage career to work as a medical secretary. Now Thomas's life has come full circle and she's performing again in front of a captive audience.
Doris Truluck and Barbara Abel
Doris Truluck and Barbara Abel are a mother and daugter team, one's 83, the other 55. They run the Genuine Bread and Specialty Shop in West Philadelphia. where every day customers stop to buy fresh bread and baked goods. But the heart of their business is the delivery of hot, affordable meals to senior citizens. There is no charge for delivery and no delivery for those under 65 years old.
When Barry Vernick's wife was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, he quit working to become a full time caregiver. When she died 3 years later, Vernick was not only devastated, but his days became empty, seemingly without focus or purpose. Knowing he had to get out of the house and stay busy, Vernick started volunteering at an organization that prepares and delivers meals to terminally ill people. It changed his life.
Skip Voluntad's real name is Pioquinto but people could never get it right. One day when hearing someone trying to pronounce his name he said "just skip it" and ever since then he's gone by Skip. Voluntad spent most of his professional life in the restaurant business where he got to know old and new Asian immigrants and the difficulties they face. His commitment to helping them has become his life's purpose. We visit Voluntad at the Nationalities Senior Center in North Philadelphia, where he and a group of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian elders are celebrating the Asian New Year.
As an anthropologist and educator, Joan Waite focused on African Art, but she waited for retirement to plunge into another of her passions. Singing. Now the mezzo-soprano studies music from around the world and performs for fund raising concerts. We visit her at the home of her voice teacher.
Elaine Hoffman Watts
Although Elaine Hoffman Watts grew up with klezmer music in her home, she didn't really perform much. Now in her 70s, she plays for audiences around the country and hopes to keep the musical tradition of her ancestors alive for future generations.
Skip Wiener believes in community revitalization through greening. He runs the organization Urban Tree Connection and they transform vacant land into public green space and gardens to grow food in the West Philadelphia neighborhood of Haddington.
Sheldon Weintraub is a self proclaimed ball of fire. At 74 he's gone from retiring as a doctor, to being a Senior Olympics basketball champion, to pursuing his lifelong interest in art. Weintraub now shares his knowledge with visitors at the renown Barnes foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. Humor and a passion for opening people's minds are his trademark.
Reverend Joe Williams
Reverend Joe Williams is best known for his singing with the gospel group The Dixie Hummingbirds. Now retired, he leads a fellowship of hope at the Center in the Park senior center in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood. In addition to preaching, he talks about his other passion - music.
For most of his adult life Jack Yampolsky has been a numbers guy. The retired accountant now manages other people's money. But his life took a different turn when he started writing, and at the age of 81 he published his first book, a novel called Boardwalk Story.
The newspaper, One Step Away is produced by homeless men, women and children. The name comes from the idea that many people are just one step away from being homeless. Reporter Erik Younge knows this, he has been living in a shelter in Philadelphia for 2 years now. A lifelong community activist, Young says working at the newspaper has helped him get back on his feet.
Nu Nu Zan
Myanmar, formerly Burma, is the largest mainland country in South East Asia and has been a place of political conflict for decades. The Karen people, an ethnic minority, are often at odds with the military government, and many of them have fled to the U.S. as refugees. Some feel lucky enough to know Nu Nu Zan, a Burmese immigrant herself. As a Karen, she speaks the language - and helps refugees navigate their new lives in Philadelphia.