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Help for the homebound

Senior Center Without Walls allows seniors socialize, engage in activities via telephone

Posted: November 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Terry Englehart, director, left and volunteer, Maggie Britton, right, of Senior Center Without Walls, play a board game. The California-based nonprofit offers free telephone-based programs, support groups and classes to homebound seniors throughout the state.

For years, Helen Silver attended the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. It was convenient to her home in Castaic and she enjoyed the classes, camaraderie and travel.

“It was my whole social life,” Silver said.

After almost a quarter century in Castaic, Silver and her husband moved to Thousand Oaks. Shortly thereafter, Sidney Silver died, leaving Helen Silver alone in a senior living apartment complex.

“I’m only out of my house one or two days a week. There are things here to keep me busy, but not enough,” Silver said. “I have arthritis. I don’t like going on the bus. Mostly, I’m in my room, alone.”

Across the state in San Francisco, Silver’s daughter Claire heard about a nonprofit that might help her mother. Called Senior Center Without Walls, the free service offers seniors a chance to take classes and participate in group discussions over the phone from the privacy of their homes.

Every day, Silver, 83, calls in on the toll-free number to at least one group.

“It’s like a lifeline, to hear those voices. It’s something I look forward to,” Silver said.

Amongst her favorites is the Friday Cozy Circle chat group and the morning gratitude discussions, where she and approximately 10 other people on the line discuss their lists of what they’re grateful for.

“The word ‘gratitude’ never meant that much to me before, now it means a lot to me,” she said. “It makes you appreciate life.”

Started by Terry Englehart seven years ago, Senior Center Without Walls was adopted by Episcopal Senior Communities as a non-denominational program in 2009. Seniors are welcome to call in from throughout the state for the free service, which lists its daily programs online at

Topics run the gamut from quizzes to health issues to current events. The busiest times for programs tend to be during the week, with up to 15 programs available.

“There are 12-week sessions, and we do have something every single day of the year, including holidays,” Englehart said. “The holidays can be particularly difficult for those who don’t have others in their lives. They see the TV ads of people having fun and think back to happier times. With our programs, seniors can feel warmth and friendship. Even though it’s on the phone, it’s a powerful tool.”

Most of the Senior Center Without Walls programs are facilitated by participants, who are trained and mentored by the organization to take on  leadership positions.

While the programs are open to any senior, most participants tend to be homebound.

“This is for a variety of reasons, such as frailty and disability due to aging or illness,” Englehart said. “For some, it might be that they live in a rural area that doesn’t have a lot to do for seniors. Others may not be driving and are restricted with transportation that can help them get out.”

Janice Jensen, 66, of Simi Valley was recovering from surgery when she heard about Senior Center Without Walls through her Meals on Wheels volunteer.

“I wasn’t mobile. I had given away my car. All I had was access to a telephone and I didn’t know who to call. The kids were getting tired of hearing from me,” Jensen said. “Senior Center Without Walls has been really helpful.”

Not only has Jensen connected with similar seniors, she’s also learned about how to deal with health issues such as macular degeneration, from which she suffers.

Through referrals from a Senior Center Without Walls class on living with low vision, Jensen connected with the Braille Institute and recently received a light, magnifying lens and books on tape so she can continue reading.

“It’s been a godsend to me. I didn’t know anything about aging; I didn’t get that information from my mother or anyone else. I got it all from Senior Center Without Walls,” she said.

For more information on Senior Center Without Walls, visit or call (877) 797-7299.


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