By Sandra Coopersmith
Features Writer 

Debbie Cahill Retiring From Senior Center

Dedicated Many Years to Help Senior Citizens

 

March 14, 2019

Debbie Cahill's warm, colorful office at the Culver City Senior Center includes a creatively chaotic filing system.

"My office is like an archeological dig," she explained. "If you want to know what happened 15 years ago, just go to the bottom of one of the piles and you'll find all the history of what we did."

That is about to change, as Cahill is retiring on March 17th.

"After 15 years of having the privilege and challenge of the position of Senior Programming Specialist at the Senior Center, I will be closing this chapter," she said. "I'm looking forward to the years ahead, and also looking back with pride to 15 years of creating opportunities for seniors to socialize, create, exercise, learn and celebrate life together."

Her small town upbringing in Attica, NY strongly influenced her career choices.

"I grew up in a community of 2,000 people, people looking out for each other and supporting each other through life's ups and downs," she recalled. "I lived with my grandmother, who often said she was not happy unless she was 'helping someone.' In my high school service to others was encouraged, and I experienced many different volunteer activities such as teaching blind kids to swim and collecting food and clothing for those in need. Notre Dame High School in Batavia, NY just celebrated our 50th class reunion, and we collectively recalled the emphasis that the Holy Cross nuns and priests placed on giving to others."


Cahill, a Montessori teacher for 31 years, always felt she was born to teach.

"I always loved kids," she said, "and then I moved to the other end. If I wasn't going to be with kids, then I wanted to be with seniors."

As Cahill described a typical day at the Senior Center, it was apparent she chose well: "Walking into the building I hear the joyful noise of the 50+ seniors enjoying their ZUMBA class followed by the also joyful noise of the Mindbodydance class. What a way to start a day, exercising to music with fellow seniors in a fun atmosphere! Every day is busy and every day is different with experiences of ongoing classes, educational and informational seminars, entertainment, Fitness Room, special events and all the possibilities that help to offer something for everyone. And I must mention the importance of our volunteers. We could not open the doors each day without their aid and assistance."

And it all started with Mary Evans.

Cahill explained that "we came to this Senior Center from Mary Evan's living room. In 1962 Mary Evans opened her Culver City home to a club of senior citizens called the Merry Makers, a group that helped at the Veterans hospital, made contributions to needy families and had some fun, too. Mary Evans had a dream to provide socialization and recreation for the betterment of seniors."

From 1972-2003 the senior center was located on Overland where the Teen Center is today, and moved to the new building at Culver and Overland in March 2003. Now 700-800 seniors are in and out every day enjoying a potpourri of activities.

Cahill's emphasis has always been on providing activities not based on age but on ability and interest.

"I have very much enjoyed scheduling musical entertainment for the birthday and holiday parties, singalongs and dances," she said. "Music is the universal language. We can offer so many diverse activities only with the support of the Culver City Senior Citizens Association, the non-profit that supports activities for its 4,000+ members, and it is my profound hope that the partnership between the Association and the City of Culver City endures and continues to positively affect the lives of so many people. The Association opens up many opportunities to our members that would not be available without their financial support."

Asked to share some memorable moments, Cahill replied that "they are all precious and there are so many, but I keep coming back to one in particular. A new member was enjoying a ukulele show by Cali Rose and the CC Strummers. He was with his daughter, had lost his wife of 50+ years and was depressed and unmotivated to do much of anything, but his daughter convinced him to come. At the end of the show they were playing a lively song and encouraging everyone to get up and dance. A few of us were at the back of the room dancing the twist and he joined in. After the song was over he smiled at me with glee and pronounced, 'There's life in the old dog yet!' He has been here every day since then, engaged in exercise, dance and, music, and he dances every dance at every party. AND he is 92 years young! Every single day I am warmed by comments from members who appreciate the opportunities that await them here."

However, her life at the Senior Center has not been without challenges.

"It's hard when the desire to help someone is overtaken by the reality that we are powerless to help, especially in the case of searching for housing and dealing with mental health issues," she said. "It is so very difficult when people we know well become infirm, frail or mentally challenged. One of the most profound challenges is the loss of our revered instructors. This past year alone we lost Harry Santo who taught several languages over 25 years and Yvonne Beraldi, our energetic, beloved ZUMBA teacher.

"All of our teachers are special and I am the fortunate one who gets to know them best, and I must say all of our instructors are outstanding. There is a lot of love and caring going on in our classes, which brings me to the most important insight into what makes this Senior Center tick: No matter what the activity, every group evolves into a social entity. For example, members of the 8 o'clock Club that shows up every morning in the Fitness Room have become friendly, celebrating birthdays and other milestones with each other. You should hear the banter that goes on in there every morning!"

Cahill cited the CC Strummers as another example: "They follow Cali Rose's loving and caring attitude. They celebrate life together, they volunteer in the community, and they make joyful music together."

She recalled "the hundreds of cards and wellness wishes that went out to Yvonne when she was sick and the joyful ZUMBA Party held in her honor after her passing. These few illustrations of social connections among the seniors are the essence of our reason to exist. I only hope that this spirit continues to grow among our members and that each and every person finds fellowship, support and encouragement among the beautiful diversity in our CCSCA members."

As the next chapter approaches, Cahill is "looking forward to more exercise, more time with Mother Nature, and finding joy in volunteering. I will truly miss connecting with the people at the Senior Center. I have considered it an honor to have contributed to the welfare of our seniors and cherish the experience I have had sharing in their wisdom that comes from lives well lived. I have so much respect and appreciation for all. I have seen every aspect of aging and, as I enter my 70th year of life, I will hopefully have learned well from them."

On Feb. 27 Dr. Janet Hoult, who teaches Word Painting With Poetry at the Senior Center, presented a Poe Tea together with members of her class to honor the Senior Center and Cahill upon her retirement that commences on St. Patrick's Day.

Since Cahill takes pride in the Irish heritage she received from both parents, it seems fitting to end with a Gaelic toast, "Go maire sibh bhur saol nua": May you enjoy your new life.

 

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