For the last 38 years, Edith Kutcher has run the library at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia.

Kutcher, 98, volunteers three hours a day, four days a week. Her love of books drove her to become a librarian after she retired from her job as a secretary at a defense industrial supplier. In addition to making sure visitors sign out books, she sells used books and uses the money to buy new items from the best seller's list.

Kutcher uses a walker to navigate the 110,000-square-foot property, but she is in good shape and said she thinks she will live to be 110. A poem she wrote explains how seniors over the age of 90 deserve to be in a different category. She suggested the term "super seniors."

She is one of the many seniors who make KleinLife a part of their daily lives. The center, at 10100 Jamison Ave., provides a whole array of services, including exercise programs, dental care, after-school programs, and meals for homebound seniors.

On the eve of its 40th anniversary, president and CEO Andre Krug said the center has undergone a transformation since the days when it was known as the Klein Jewish Community Center.

KleinLife started out as a typical Jewish community center with a pool, indoor track, gym, and 400-seat theater, and although all four facilities still remain, the center has evolved.

With about 5,000 members, KleinLife is much more than a traditional "swim and gym" Jewish center, Krug said.

One of KleinLife's major programs is making sure seniors do not go hungry. The organization serves about 70,000 meals a year at the center and delivers almost 94,000 meals a year to homebound seniors. Recipients do not have to be members or Jewish.

The delivered meals, which usually consist of soup and chicken, are made by more than 50 separate groups of volunteers, and then delivered by other volunteers. Altogether, the program, called Cook for a Friend, requires the help of more than 600 people.

Sue Aistrop, who became the director of community services last year, said KleinLife asks recipients for a donation for the meals, but it is not mandatory.

"We ask for a suggested donation of $2, but nobody's going to go hungry," she said.

KleinLife's meals program serves Northeast Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, Center City, the City Avenue area, Abington and Cheltenham. Aistrop said the group recently received a grant to extend the program to a section of West Philadelphia.

KleinLife's many programs cost a lot of money. Half of its $5 million annual budget comes from fees for services, although not everyone pays.

"We also serve people who cannot afford to pay the dues associated with a traditional JCC," Krug said.

And 15 percent to 20 percent comes from the federal, state and city governments; the rest comes from grants from such organizations as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the United Way and GlaxoSmithKline.

Another major function for KleinLife is creating an atmosphere of socialization for seniors and helping immigrants adapt to life in the United States, Krug said, something he's familiar with. The 45-year-old immigrant came to America from the former Soviet Union, settling in the area in 1989.

Korean, Chinese and Brazilian immigrants, who have moved to Northeast Philadelphia in recent years, have been welcomed into the center, regardless of their religion.

"They feel that this center is not intimidating," Krug said. "It is not making them change who they are."

Others come to KleinLife to meet other seniors, stay active, socialize.

Rita and Harold Levinson, who have been married for more than 64 years, are regulars at the center. They have made good friends at KleinLife, and, in fact, they go out to dinner with another couple from the center every Saturday.

"There's something to do," Rita said. "Otherwise, we would sit in the house and watch TV."

Harold, 89, swims in KleinLife's pool every day, and whenever he can gets on the treadmill, rides the exercise bikes, or lifts weights.

In addition to the exercise program, KleinLife offers classes for seniors in topics as diverse as painting, classical American short stories, and the history of anti-Semitism.

"It doesn't matter how old you are," said Linda Hershman, who coordinates the lifelong learning program. "You have to keep learning."

Hershman, whose parents came to the center when it started, said people continue to come to KleinLife because it is like a family. She received help from KleinLife when her husband fell ill before his death less than a year ago.

"When my husband got sick, I needed help, and I didn't know where to go," Hershman said. "The best part of it is they're there, right there, and they're willing to help."

The center helped Hershman obtain a wheelchair and other equipment that helped her care for her ailing husband.

Krug said he believes KleinLife offers an alternative to sending seniors into the nursing home system.

"People don't want to go to nursing homes anymore," he said. "We're trying to help them stay independent."

"We've really become a premier social service in the area," he added.

@JackTomczuk

KleinLife Gala

StartText

As part of the celebration of its 40th anniversary, KleinLife is to hold a fund-raising gala on Sunday, Nov. 8, at its center, 10100 Jamison Ave. in Bustleton.

Time: 5 to 8 p.m.

Description: There will be a reception, dinner, music and a program on KleinLife's history. Four members of the executive staff will be honored.

To purchase tickets ($180 for those over 40, and $90 for those under 40), contact Sharon Kaplan at 215-698-7300, Ext. 132, or go to http://kleinlife.org

EndText