Guadalupe Delgado Jr. wanted to relearn Spanish. Refugia Gonzales was lonely and wanted something to do. Both Lansing-area residents ended up in the Senior Program at Cristo Rey Community Center.
According to the Cristo Rey website, the Tri-County Office on Aging began funding the Senior Program in 1977, “to meet the needs of the Spanish Speaking elderly who were unable to access their traditional services because of language, culture, transportation and other barriers.” It says the program provides a senior day center, a meal program, and information and referral, and is the only Hispanic senior program in the Lansing community.
Aside from donations for meals, the program is free to join. Members come on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, but the busiest days are Tuesday and Thursday. Senior Program Coordinator Sally Arias said that of the 40 registered members, around 15-25 generally come on Tuesday and Thursday. Arias added that the majority of the members are women; there are only two or three men in the program.
Delgado started coming to the Senior Program about a year ago, but already knew about Cristo Rey. The community center used to house an elementary school, where Delgado taught third grade.
Spanish was Delgado’s first language, but he said he spoke English during his eight years in the service and had to relearn his native language.
“They force you to speak Spanish,” he joked.
Members come to Cristo Rey to socialize and for a small meal. While they’re there, they visit with one another, watch television, occasionally do a small craft, and play bingo. Arias said there’s a regular group that always comes to play bingo.
“They could play bingo day and night,” she said.
Like Delgado, Gonzales has been coming to the Senior Program for about a year. She said she had never played bingo before, but she’s getting the hang of it.
Though many members play bingo, Arias said two women in their 90s regularly come and choose to socialize or watch television instead.
The group generally meets at the Cristo Rey Community Center in Lansing, but they occasionally take field trips. Arias organized a casino trip for the group in August. She was originally worried that she wouldn’t be able to fill the charter bus she rented, but on the day of the trip, the bus was full and she had more members interested in going. She said the members are already asking when they’re going to take another trip.
“That’s going to have to wait until after the new year,” she said, laughing.
Not all of the members of the Senior Program are associated with migrant farming, but Arias said she thinks some were migrant workers in the past. Arias’ family used to be migrant workers—they would travel to Stockbridge, Mich., to pick cabbage and other vegetables.
For many of the members, the Senior Program at Cristo Rey is a place where they can go and feel comfortable, especially for those who live alone.
Arias and Roberto Quiroga, who also works with the Senior Program, both said that many prefer coming to the community center over staying at home.
“They come to talk with each other,” Quiroga said. “If they stay home, they say, ‘We’re getting crazy!’ because they don’t have too much to do.”
“They kind of consider this their own little home outside of their home,” Arias said. “The 94-year-old [woman], I know a few days she wasn’t feeling good, and I told her, ‘Why don’t you just stay home?’ She said, ‘No, I don’t want to stay home. I don’t want to be there all by myself.’ So after that, I don’t say anything.”
Delgado said the Senior Program is a comfortable place because many of the members come from the same area.
“Most of these people come from the same state—Texas—and there’s a certain lifestyle in Texas that’s different from California or New Mexico,” he said. “They speak the same thing that I do, and that’s why it feels more like home.”
The Senior Program is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.cristo-rey.org.
By Annie Perry