All it took was a tagline to pique Julie Dalton’s attention in RSS-Riverdale Senior Services.
As someone with a background working in aging services, Dalton was casually subscribed to the emails of RSS-Riverdale Senior Services and saw the Netherland Avenue facility’s tagline: “The Center for Ageless Living.”
There was something in that message that pushed Dalton toward the idea that she wanted to be part of that community.
“I thought that was so perfectly a match for me,” she said.
Dalton has now been at the helm of RSS as its executive director for the last year, where she’s had a hand in shaping the future of what a senior center has to offer older residents in this part of the Bronx. It’s something RSS has now done for the last 45 years.
Julia Blumenthal founded the senior center in 1974 to provide a place where people older than 60 could eat meals and make friends. Since then, the center has grown to broaden its scope, providing a range of programs from mental health support to educational classes in technology, health and the arts.
Dalton sees RSS as more than a center that provides seniors with a list of pre-determined activities and resources.
“We try to serve people and address their needs,” she said. “But then there’s the flip side of that, which is kind of taking a step back and not saying, ‘Well I know what you need, so I’m going to give you my list of services,’ but to be a little bit more holistic in (our) approach and how we can empower older people, (and) how we can look at stuff through an aging lens.”
RSS challenges “what a senior necessarily needs to look like,” Dalton said, with new initiatives like the Women’s Wellness Project to help women take charge of their health, and the Savvy Solos club, a group dedicated to teaching seniors valuable information to have in the event of an emergency.
“We really try to foster connections among them,” she said.
Toby Cash visits RSS several days a week. She first joined three years ago thanks to a few acquaintances who already were members. Cash had just retired after working for 40 years and was impressed with what she found at RSS.
“It’s become my salvation,” she said, “and a home away from home.”
Cash is part of a knitting group and even completes adult coloring books at the center.
“There’s nothing that you might want to do or have an interest in that they don’t provide you with,” she said.
RSS also has focused its efforts on elevating community voices by creating a social action committee, a group who can bring up issues relevant to senior citizens.
The committee recently met with the Bronx city transportation department commissioner to raise concerns like needing more time to cross the street and adding more “talking” traffic lights to the area.
“They now feel empowered because they know how to advocate for what they need,” Dalton said.
Members have also planned an International Day for Oct. 24, where everyone can celebrate their respective cultures.
“There’s a lot of energy and vibrancy when people step outside that myth about aging,” Dalton said.
Dalton gets constant reminders about how RSS is a lifeline for many of the seniors who visit, calling it their “home away from home,” to the point that some get sad RSS is closed on Saturdays.
Dalton’s experience at RSS has taught her to continue looking at everything with fresh eyes.
“I think I’ve learned always to have an open mind,” she said, “always to think, ‘How else could we do this?’”
When she looks ahead to the next 45 years, Dalton hopes she and the leaders who came before her will have succeeded in bringing a diverse set of programs to the center to prepare for the next generation of members.
“Our services and our programs can’t be one-size-fits-all,” Dalton said. “I think to have us be flexible and find ways to offer things and have them funded that meet different cohorts, I think that’s important.”
Members like Cash also hope for vibrant future continuity at RSS as she continues find it “just a very, very comforting place to be.”
“I feel very blessed that I have them,” she said. “That’s the bottom line. I feel very fortunate to have something like that at my fingertips.”
Whether it’s a yoga class or a meeting with elected officials to discuss concerns, Dalton wants every person who walks through the doors at RSS to know this center is there for them.
“I think if older people are taken care of in the community,” Dalton said, “everybody is taken care of in the community.”