The Senior Citizens movement in Rome started in August 1957 when Ava Dorfman had the foresight to bring together interested people to focus on the needs of the elderly. In November of that same year, a 10-member board, the Senior Citizens Association of Greater Rome, was formed with Mrs. Dorfman as is first president. Mrs. Dorfman served as President for 18 years and as volunteer director for 16 years. This Board is now known as the Senior Citizens Council of Rome NY Inc.
Ava took on the task of recruiting members by approaching industries for a list of retirees. She sent a letter to each retiree. Due to a lack of transportation, she secured three meeting places so the seniors could meet in their neighborhoods. In February 1958, through the courtesy of the Polish Home, South Romans had a meeting place. Then, the Liberty Club, on the east side, opened its doors for another group. For a midtown location, Ava secured the Moose Club. These three clubs met weekly for several years, growing to over 100 members, verifying the need for community services for seniors. They elected their own Officers and were governed by their own by-laws.
They got busy. For instance, in 1968 a workshop was sought for refurbishing toys and other articles for distribution to needy families. Ava approached the VFW for space and was shown a room full of coal and storage facilities. Asked if she would like to have the room, Ava, in her usual practice of never missing an opportunity, said yes. And what a wonderful job in ten days the VFW members did in cleaning the room. For the first few years, with support of the Kiwanis Cub, members collected toys, furniture, and clothing to distribute at Christmas. Its noteworthy to mention that many dolls came without heads, feet and some without arms, but the members, through their efforts and donated tools from many organizations, repaired and refurbished the toys in time for the holiday season. Lists of needy children were received from Catholic Charities, Family Services, and the Salvation Army. Their efforts reached nearly 100 children during the holiday season and through the year. Members were guests of the Kiwanis Cub at their first luncheon of the New Year.
As a volunteer director, Ava brought the senior citizens support to many other community organizations with which she was affiliated, such as the Association for the Blind, Christmas Seal Campaign, and United Way. Members participated in Fort Stanwix Days with a float that they constructed, which won a prize, and the Fort Stanwix Garden Club where they exhibited and received prizes for vegetables and flower arrangements. Birthdays and Anniversaries were celebrated, travelogues and speakers were provided on subjects of interest and benefit to the members. Several marriages took place among the members. Two outstanding members, chosen by the membership were honored annually, for a number of years, at the Lions Club Banquet.
Ava organized and supervised trips to historical points of interest including overnight trips in the United States and Canada. During one such trip, four buses carried Seniors Citizens to Montreal for the Expo as well as to Boston.
A bowling league was organized with the cooperation of the Rome Women’s Bowling Association and the Mohawk Lanes, where then owner Peter Marturano, allowed people to bowl without charge. To bridge the generation gap, students from Rome Catholic High and Rome Free Academy, were invited as dancing partners for the members at dinner dances. Card parties and bazaars were started as fundraisers toward a future center.
Ava spoke to the Ministerial Association in Camden about forming a Golden Age Club there as well as to many local organizations to promote the senior citizens’ cause.
In 1961 she took two buses of members to Watertown to view Skyline Apartments, public housing for senior citizens. She brought to city and housing authority officials the need for housing for the elderly in our community. Members surveyed the community and garnered the needed 300 applications to qualify for Federal and State funding. In 1963 the results were represented to the Rome Common Council and the Rome Housing Authority applied for funds, resulting in ground broken in 1965 for what is now known as Colonial 1. As of this date, we also have a Colonial 2. More housing was needed. In 1968 a committee was formed through the joint efforts of the Catholic Dioceses and Niagara Mohawk, with Mrs. Dorfman as a charter member. Working with this committee, the seniors surveyed the community and helped with applications for additional housing, now known as Rome Towers.
While recognizing the various needs of the elderly, Mrs. Dorfman served as a charter member of the board, and established the Bethany House, a residential health care facility.
Another dream emerged. With continuous growth in membership, the temporary facilities were limiting. What was needed was a free-standing center. In 1964, the Council started looking for sites and in 1965 requested the approval for land next to the Armory where the present Center now stands. It was not until 1966, and only by special legislation of New York State, was approval granted to the city of Rome to sell this 1.3 acre city-owned land parcel to the Senior Citizens Council for $10,000. Many thanks to the late Senator Donovan and to Ava’s efforts by calling and writing to Governor Rockefeller to gain approval for the sale.
In 1967, the Council (particularly through Ava and Dick McMahon) applied to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for a $91,000 grant, 2/3 of the cost of the building. With the help of Congressman Pirnie, Charles Horan, Director of the Housing and Urban Development Agency, and Mayor Valentine, the grant was approved in 1969. A fund drive by the Council, with Mrs. Dorfman as chair, raised $45,000 which was the 1/3 local share of the estimated $136, 000 construction cost. During construction another dilemma arose when the estimates fell short by almost $40,000. With a trip to New York by Ava and a lot of prayers, and not without real tears, a nearly unprecedented second grant was awarded, without the process of an application. On October 16, 1969, the 14-year dream materialized with the ground-breaking ceremony for a permanent center for our senior population. Eighteen months later, in May 1971, the center was dedicated in opening ceremonies with Congressman Pirnie as the main speaker. During the Ceremony, Mr. Pirnie expressed the desire that this center would be a “pilot project” for the nation as the first free standing multipurpose Senior Center in the nation. As a surprise to Mrs. Dorfman, a plaque sculptured by James McDermott was unveiled by Dick McMahon. The inscription read as follows:
SENIOR CITIZENS CIVIC CENTER, DEDICATED TO AVA DORFMAN, FOUNDER OF THE SENIOR CITIZENS COUNCIL OF ROM, NEW YORK, INC., IN 1957, AND ITS PRESIDENT SINCE THAT DATE, VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR OF EDUCATIONAL, RECREATIONAL AND CULTURAL ACTIVITIES OF THE ORGANIZATION WITHOUT FINANCIAL COMPENSATION, INSPIRED LEADER WHOSE VISION FIRST CONCEIVED THIS BUILDING AS A PERMANENT CENTER, SHE RELENTLESSLY PURSUED THE CAMPAIGN FOR PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SUPPORT TO ACHIEVE THIS GOAL, WITHOUT WHICH THIS BUILDING WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A REALITY. HER UNSELFISH AND TIRELESS SERVICE TO PRESENT AND FUTURE SENIOR CITIZENS OF ROME AND VICINITY IS HEREBY GRATEFULLY ACKNOWLEDGED.
The building was officially named in honor of Mrs. Dorfman on August 17, 1971. The Council had great difficulty in naming the building after a living person due to rules of the Housing and Urban Devolvement office. But with the help of Congressman Pirnie, Mayor Valentine and in particular the senior citizens, the permission was granted and the building became known as the Ava Dorfman Senior Citizens Civic Center for its founder. With a permanent Center now available for meetings five days a week, and some evenings, the educational, recreational and health needs of the ever growing population of elderly in our community were met. Health programs were provided such as glaucoma, hearing, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. Speakers on many subjects of interest to the membership included physicians, attorneys and dieticians. Classes were formed in oil-painting, sewing, jewelry, ceramics, bridge classes, square dancing, social dancing, physical fitness, bunka, basket making, quilting, decoupage, and cooking for one. There was volunteer income tax preparation assistance. A very active choral group, and the famous Happy Hoofers, provided entertainment for various nursing homes, health related facilities and many other community groups.
Needing funds for operating the center, the council approached the City of Rome, then Mayor Valentine, and received financial support which grew over the years under then Mayor Carl Eilenberg, Mayor Joe Griffo and now our Mayor Jim Brown. We thank them for their support and for understanding the ends of our senior population. In 1971 we also became a member agency of the United Way. We are grateful for their support.
Ava spoke to many local service organizations. As a result the Rome Rotary Club with their then president, Alex Fiore, donated a Public Address system and is still in use today. The VFW Auxiliary donated a flag and a flagpole. The Zonta Club provided the furnishings for the Lounge. A gift of a piano by Dr Milton Dorfman was given to the center. Through a Grant by Community Foundation, an elevette was installed to make the lower level accessible for those who had difficulty with the steps.
In 1971, the 14th Annual Bazaar, conducted by members, with Mary Harrington as bazaar chairman, came upon an idea to solicit celebrities. Various articles were donated by Lawrence Welk, Joan Crawford, Dinah Shore, Jack Benny, Big Crosby, Governor Rockefeller, Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson and President and Mrs. Nixon and a set of cuff links by the Governor of California, later our president, Ronald Reagan.
Also in this year, Ava traveled to San Francisco where she noticed that senior citizens could ride buses for just 10 cents, Bringing this to the attention of Mayor Valentine, similar rates were obtained for Rome. The Mayor asked Dr. Dorfman not to take Ava on his travels too often, so she wouldn’t get anymore of these ideas.
In 1974, the Oneida County Office for the Aging was established with the help of Ava, who was then very active on the National and State Association on Aging. She had been appointed as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging by Governor Rockefeller. Mr. Bryant, then County Executive, appointed Mrs. Dorfman as the first chairman of the 15-member Advisory Board to the Office for the Aging. In that year, Ava traveled to Albany to bring attention to the need for a Nutrition Program. She met with a New York State representative and discussed the need for a nutritious meal for our elderly, especially the single widows and widowers. As a result, on a two-day basis, a Nutrition Program was brought to the Center. In 1977, the program was expanded to five days. Many members from various Churches helped as Volunteers. The program under Title VII provided one balanced meal a day and allowed for socialization among the elderly an opportunity to renew acquaintances.
In June of 1975, Mrs. Dorfman, after serving in the position of President for 19 years, was named PRESIDENT EMERITUS of the Senior Citizens Council.
On March 19, 1958, the Rome Daily Sentinel editorialized, “Between 1900 and 1950 the total population of the United States doubled, but the number of persons aged 65 and over quadrupled. At the turn of the Century only one in twenty five Americans had passed his 65th Birthday; but in 1958, one in 12 had reached normal retirement age. In Rome at least 10% of our population was 60 or over.” In the last Census, at least 18% of Romans are 60 or over.
In further responding to an enlarging elderly population, in 1980 an Outreach program was established with outreach workers housed at the senior center. The programs’ aims are to locate and visit homebound elderly, inform them of available services, encourage participation in projects, and arrange for follow-ups to determine if services are being provided.
In May of 1983, Ava Dorfman was the recipient of the Rome Rotary Clubs Roses of the Living, given to her for her outstanding volunteer participation in the community.
In June of 1988, with a culmination of a festive affair at the State Capital in Albany, Ava was selected as Oneida County Senior Citizen of the Year. A month later, in July her beloved Dr. Milton Dorfman, passed away. This was also the year that Ava helped to bring about a Column in the Rome Sentinel- called the SENIOR SCOOP that addresses issues important to the Seniors.
In 1990-91, the Senior Citizens Council, searching for new ways to reach seniors, with physical impairment or who needed structured care, explored the concept of Adult Day Care. What would be needed to offer the program was a new building connected of the existing Center with a separate entrance, ramps, elevette and additional parking. On May 29, 1991, after much planning by the Council, a formal groundbreaking took place for a 4,400 square foot addition that would house a new Adult Day Care program. This construction was financed with $238, 000 from Rome’s Community Development Block Grant Program, a $30,000 Grant from the Utica Foundation, now known as the Community Foundation, and $36,000 from the Center’s building funds, established by members of the Center from various fund raising projects over the years. Once again, thank you to the Community Foundation for an additional grant for furnishings of the Adult Day Care Center and providing an elevette for this facility. One year to the day of groundbreaking, on May 29, 1992 with a new facility and a competent and well-trained staff in place the Ava Dorfman Adult Day Care Center opened.
This program was designed to improve the quality of life of functionally impaired adults; provide respite to caregivers, and provide a cost effective means for delivering long term care services as an alternative to institutional care.
Now with two facilities to support, the Council looked for additional funding. As a result Sunday Bingo opened to the public as one of our many fundraisers. Special thanks to the Knights of Columbus for their generous assistance to develop this program and for donated equipment.
In 1995, the Senior Citizens Council applied and received grants to purchase accounting equipment and computers for our office. Thanks Senator Hoffman, and Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito.
The senior citizen council acknowledges the many grants received over the years from the Stephen Kingsley Foundation and the most recent gift, with the help of Steve Waters, allowed us to purchase a computer that would enable our members to access the Internet.
We thank the Rome Sentinel for their support over the years. We especially remember the support and extensive coverage in our developing years by the late editor, Fritz Updike.
We would also like to thank Sue and Carl Eilenbergh for their coverage and for making available a supply of the Rome Observer to those who attend the center.
Much has been accomplished in those past 40 years and no doubt many avenues are still to be explored. With the ever growing and educated Senior Population, the demands for more sophisticated programs will be needed to accommodate the changes in our society.
As a young person with small children, then ages 3 and 5, Ava Dorfman came to Rome in 1954. She was engaged in many community causes, but the Senior Citizen Project she dedicated her life to.
Ava has actively participated as chair person on the Oneida County Tuberculosis and Health Association and other community endeavors such as: Rome Community Concert Association; Woman’s Community Center; United Way, Social Services Planning Council; Dogwood Twig; Wednesday Morning Club; Fort Stanwix Garden Club; Parent-Teacher Association; Auxiliary of the Oneida County Medical Society, which led to her Volunteer work at Marcy State Hospital, where she worked both with the children and the elderly. From her work at the Marcy State Hospital, Ava was able to bring the children that she worked with to the area seniors, for musical programs.
In 1965, she organized the first summer speech therapy program for children with speech impairment serving the public, parochial and the New York State School for the Deaf.
In 1966 Ava Dorfman was named the Woman of the Year. In honoring her the Gamma Iota Chapter and the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, wrote these words: “Ava Dorfman has lived in Rome less that 20 years. In that time she has contributed more to her adopted city than many who have lived here their entire lives. She is a woman who sees a need, knows what she wants to do, and does it.”
In 1995, Ava Dofman was honored by SUNY Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome with its Distinguished Service Award.
It is interesting to note that it was in October 1982, the Senior Citizens Council met at the Beeches to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Council and its members. Our Guest Speaker at that time was Monsignor Charles Fahey. In October 1997, we celebrated our 40th Anniversary in a Community Spirit with Monsignor Fahey, once again as our Speaker and Ava Dorfman, once again, the chairperson for this celebration.
And today, October 2007, in celebration of our 50th Anniversary, we were once again very fortunate to secure Monsignor Fahey, but unfortunately due to an unforeseen conflict on his part, we are regretfully observing without him, and once again, Ava Dorfman as the chairperson for this event.
Over the past 10 years we were faced with many challenges, as the demands for more culturally and health related programs were needed to accommodate the upcoming “baby boom”, or “forever young” generation. The Ava Dorfman Center strives to meet those needs. In addition to the already mentioned programs which are still functioning today, a Widow and Widower Group, a Family Caregiver Support Group, an annual Intergenerational Art Exhibit, a Wellness Room which houses a defibrillator, various weights and cardiovascular equipment and a Gift Shop are offered, all open to both members of the center and the community. Other new groups and classes that have been formed include Computer Instruction, Mah Jongg, Yoga, Pilates, Strength and Balance, Body Sculpting, Clogging, Boot Scooters Line Dance, Weight Management Groups , and a nationally recognize`d “Growing Strong and Osteoporosis Program”. Also thanks to the determination and drive of Ava who not once has settled for anything less than perfection for the travelers, many top notch trips have been offered which have included England, Ireland, Alaska, Toronto, a Caribbean Cruise, Australia, New Zealand and Alaska.
In October 2000 the Council held their first Senior Services Expo, an annual event which provides access to useful information to area seniors from local agencies and businesses, all under one roof. During this event, a flu shot clinic is also offered.
Through the efforts of Ava Dorfman, the Council was fortunate to have been awarded several grants and donations dedicated to a new elevator, computers, cardiovascular equipment, new programming and special events. Thanks to the Sears Foundation, the Community Development Block Grant, Senator Ray Meir, Assemblywoman Roann Destito, the Central New York Community Arts Council, Fidelis Care, Rome Walmart, and various other donors for their support.
In 2006 Ava was presented with the Zonta Rose Award for outstanding Woman of Achievement. Also, and something to be very proud of, was the development of a gift shop which is housed in the front lobby of the Center. Started by a few very dedicated and relentless member volunteers, the gift shop has grown tremendously due to the generous donations of new and gently used items donated by both center members and members of the community.
When she was in the concentration camp, Ava Dorfman made a promise to God that if she survived, she would dedicate herself to a better life for the elderly and the children as she witnessed their being mistreated by the Nazi.
As founder and first President of the Senior Citizen Council of Rome, Mrs. Dorfman has started something which has had a most beneficial effect in a long-neglected field of community responsibility. Little was being done about making the golden years of life more golden until attention was given to the needs of our Senior population, by an adopted citizen of our community