Shirley Washington, Florrie Flood and Jocelyn Powell, volunteers for AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, were outside Bredenbeck's Bakery and Ice Cream Parlor in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia to rally support against changes to Medicare. Backed by a large sign featuring the diverse faces of its constituency (50 plus demographic), one volunteer explained their presence as a way to acquaint the community with AARP while another spoke earnestly about how prescription drug costs, higher premiums and higher deductibles negatively affect Social Security pensioners. "Health care is just outrageous." They invited your correspondent inside to sign a petition to my Congressmen and enjoy a free ice cream cone! I obliged. Watch video interview here.
During the Cold War, as a high school freshman Eileen Levenson and her classmates were marched into the nurse's office and without explanation had their blood drawn and the next week their blood type tattooed on their side torso. She later learned that the tattoo, now an interesting conversation piece and handy reminder that she's O positive, was part of a government program also conducted upon military servicemen in preparation for a possible Russian invasion. Watch video here.
Aficionados gathered on Saturday at the Water Tower Recreation Center in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia to play "pickleball" to mark the sport's half century mark. The sport, a mid-way mash-up of ping pong and tennis, was made up 50 years ago by a Washington state U.S. congressman and some friends to amuse their bored families after a shuttlecock couldn't be found to play badminton. Pickleball is becoming increasingly popular among aging baby-boomers who enjoy racket sports but find it difficult to cover the ground required on a regulation size tennis court. Dan Wheeler founded the Northwest Philadelphia meetup group which now numbers over 500 members. Watch video and interviews here.
Marjorie Shoemaker brings her "Paws of the Spirit," to nursing homes and other venues. Her passel of animals include an easygoing white Labrador retriever service dog named Archie who, she says cost $50,000 to train, two rabbits and about a dozen guinea pigs. Shoemaker demonstrated how Archie can retrieve things and assist someone who might be disabled by, for example, gently taking off a person's socks without taking off any toes! Watch video here.
The nursing home residents coo ooh and ahh as they hold and pet the rabbits and the guinea pigs. The guineas, adept vocalizers, "wheek," purr, and chut in return in this video.
Eighty-seven year old Pat Sellers, laid off from the Philadelphia Cricket Club three years ago, has started doing what she has seen young people doing to try to make ends meet. Since July she has been busking on the street. She serenades passersby on her electric keyboard with show tunes and old time favorites outside Kilian Hardware, with electricity provided by the store, in the hope they will put money in her donation bag. On a recent Sunday, the musician, striking in her poofy, coifed silver hair and smart blue and white pants outfit, tapped out songs from Les Mis and Nat King Cole. Watch video and interview here.
After 40 years in the police department Avon "Crazy Ed" Wilson now sells plants outside his home on Chew Ave in Germantown. He had seen enough murder and war in the last twenty of his police years working in CSI. Now, four years running, he's been doing "something nice" for the neighbors. He buys plants at Home Depot and Produce Junction and makes arrangements of them in pots. He will bargain with customers but not if they disparage his plants. Wilson's not out to make a profit because he has a pension but tries to break even nonetheless. With his steady customers he tells a running joke: "The thing about my plants - you can't eat 'em and you can't smoke 'em."
Minister Betty Jones Alston was paralyzed from the waist down this January due to multiple sclerosis which she was diagnosed with in 1990. She had begun dropping things and attributed it to being very busy and worn down directing a food ministry and prison ministry, but it was not so.
But she is walking again and on a recent chilly spring day, she was methodically making her way down the steep entrance steps of the J.S. Jenks School after a meeting about her grandson, a student. She placed her three-footed aluminum cane on the step below her before taking each step.
Also afflicted with lupus, Minister Alston credits her faith, positive attitude and taking control of her body for enabling her to continue to lead an active life. She also sings gospel but due to a recent illness, was not able to sing in the accompanying video.
Frank Simms of North Philadelphia graduated from Overbrook High School many years ago yet now, at age 77, is still learning how to read.
He hasn’t spent a day in jail, he says, and has been working since he was six years old, doing everything from welding and bricklaying to electrical work in Philly and for periods of time in Erie and Cleveland.
At the Lovett Branch of the Free Library in Mount Airy, where he has just completed a literacy session with another woman and his tutor, Simms proudly pulls out wallet photos of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He partly blames an early speech impediment and a school with misbehaved classmates for keeping him from learning to read properly.
Asked to read aloud from an elementary grade story handed out by his teacher, he stumbles on words but perseveres. Later in the week, he meets with another tutor in the basement of an apartment building at 12th and Fairmount pursuing his quest for literacy.
Rashid Abdul/Majid, a practicing Muslim, turns to his Arabic language books during breaks in his substitute-teaching class schedule on a recent day at Parkway Northwest High School in Mount Airy. He is currently studying Arabic, taking one class on the Arabic language- grammar and sentence structure, and another, called Tajweed, on how to recite from the Koran. A recently retired driver of 38 years with SEPTA who has been simultaneously substituting for many years, he loves to travel around the world and has visited China and many countries in Africa. During the upcoming March spring break, with his wife and son, he is taking a return trip to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Watch video interview here.