Roamin' Catholic Seniors

Helping hands needed for Catholic Charities’ Fix-It Program

I’ll be the first to admit that since the loss of my brother Pete, two years ago, maintenance of the home we shared has been lacking and it’s been getting me down.

Tom Connors

Tom Connors

We’re not talking major jobs here like an electrical up grade where you’d bring in a contractor. We’re talking about small jobs, the kind Pete so easily handled, which require a degree of strength, agility and basic home repair know how that I lack. Most revolve around keeping the temperature of this small house on a slab liveable in the winter.

Take the kitchen window over the sink for instance. For months the condition of this bigger than average window has been irritating. As I washed dishes, I couldn’t help but notice the web of vines that somehow inserted themselves between the storm glass and the regular window pane inside. Then, aside from the air that leaked in around the frame, there was the spectral sight of the deceased insects that rode in on the vines. Argh!
To personally clean up the mess, I’d have had to ascend a ladder and basically stand on the counter to reach the window.
The days when I’d tackle a project like that are behind me and as to sealing out the drafts that whooshed through the patio door last winter, my DIY skills (gleaned from Internet searches) were, putting it kindly, not up to par.
With winter rushing in and the Farmer’s Almanac reeking of doom, gloom and snow once again, I reached out to the Catholic Charities Fix-It program which I’d written about several times for The Monitor.

The program is located in Ocean County where I live and where, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, the 60-plus population factors out at 27.2% of the total with 157,064 individuals. The figures also show that one of the fastest growing segments of the sixty plus population are those eighty-five and over. That demographic group which number 8,697 in 1990, increased to 14,914 in 2000 and 19,610 in 2010.

No wonder Catholic Charities came up with a program that could help the aging population maintain the homes they dearly want to stay in.
In response to my call for help with winterizing, Tom Connors, who coordinates the program, scheduled an appointment several days later. In the space of about an hour, tasks that were impossible for me were addressed. The window over the sink was removed so I could wash it and then Tom put it back in and placed weatherstripping around it.

The leaky spots around the patio door were covered with a strong, silvery tape that keeps the drafts out and the temperature up in the kitchen.
In addition, weather stripping was placed around other windows and a pet portal between the porch and the living room that my cat, James, absolutely refused to use, was removed so the window could close more securely. I was able to earmark the portal for the local animal shelter where, hopefully it will find its way to a cat who wants to use it.

During his visit, Tom shared how the Fix-It program provided similar services for over 500 Ocean County households last year. He expects the number will be about the same this year. “We could do more if we had more volunteers,” Tom said. “The need is definitely there,” he added, noting that priority goes to homes where safety is a concern. “We get about 40 calls a month and most of them are related to safety.”

The minor home repairs and chore services are mainly those that a home owner would be able to do – such as grab bar installations or putting a cabinet door back on track. Minor electrical work would include repairing and outlet or switch or replacing a doorbell that no longer works.
Minor plumbing would include tasks such as changing washers in a faucet. Chore services could include changing bulbs in lights that are up in the ceiling and batteries and getting storm and screen doors in place at change of season.

Since the chores are aimed at ensuring the safety of the residents, volunteers will hang a picture or curtains, for instance, if it keeps a resident off a ladder. They don’t repair sprinkler systems or paint rooms.

Because they are working with a relatively small number of volunteers, Fix-It is able to handle only occasional yard work such as trimming a bush or cleaning gutters. With more volunteers, the program would be able to take on more yard work, Tom said.
“Lots of seniors have anxiety about the outside of their homes,” said Tom, adding that volunteers who could tackle such chores would be greatly appreciated.

Tom said the Fix-It program volunteers are mostly retired, come from all walks of life and have varying skill sets. Some can do everything the program offers and some do one specific thing. The program is willing to work with varying schedules, he said, noting that some volunteers do many jobs a week and some take on one or two a month.

He noted also that some of the volunteers travel the entire county but most prefer to work close to home.
If assistance is needed in jobs that the program can’t take on, Catholic Charities will reach out to other agencies and try to find appropriate help, he said.

If you have skills to offer and would consider volunteering, please contact Tom at (732-363-5322, Ext. 3234.

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How a senior cat helped make the best of Sandy

As I write this entry, James, the 11-year old cat with whom I’ve shared this residence for a little over two years, is snoozing comfortably by the window in my home office. The window overlooks the park across the street, right now ablaze with trees still covered in orange, gold and



red leaves. When I bought this house 13 years ago, it was this exact scene I had in mind – some day in the future, I would write primarily in this room overlooking the park with a fine cat for company.

That day arrived last fall when I retired from full time work at The Monitor and James has been a mainstay of the office ever since.

He was snoozing by the window this Oct. 29 when I was at work on a two year retrospective for The Monitor on how the parishes of the Trenton Diocese have fared since Superstorm Sandy. Going on to the

Internet to do a bit of research on the storm, I noticed an item on the news ticker announcing the fact that Oct. 29 – the actual anniversary of Superstorm Sandy – coincidentally also happened to be National Cat Day.

A check of the National Cat Day website revealed that the “holiday” was first celebrated in 2005 “to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of cats that need to be rescued each year and also to encourage cat lovers to celebrate the cat(s) in their life for the unconditional love and companionship they bestow upon us.”

The juxtaposition of the storm anniversary and National Cat Day triggered a swell of memories of that stormy Oct. 29 night two years previously when James, then age nine and newly “adopted” from a local Petsmart, had proved his mettle as a boon companion.

Passed over for younger cats and adorable kittens by would-be adopters for far too long, James, a long and lanky feline with an inscrutable gaze, caught my attention when I was looking to adopt an older cat some months after my sweet orange tabby, George,  passed away.

Except for Boo and Holly, discarded domestic rabbits who had been “sheltering” with me for several years and remained snugly in their cages throughout the night, James and I would ride this storm out together.

A shore native who’d ridden out a number of hurricanes that skirted the Jersey Shore over the decades, I thought I had the bases covered: the “hurricane closet” my late brother Pete and I had stocked up the year before when Hurricane Irene struck was still in tact. I’d added to it with fresh batteries, water, sterno and canned food in preparing for Sandy.

The lanterns were scattered throughout the house, the windows had the requisite huge tape x’s on them. I thought we’d be ok.

As the storm approached, though, and the NOAH forecasts grew increasingly grim, I began to panic. Even though there were carrying cases for James and the rabbits, by the time I contemplated evacuating, it was far too late. Sandy was barreling onto our landscape.

At 12 miles in from the coast, I thought Lakewood, where I live, would be spared the brunt of the storm and, for the most part, it was. But Lakewood is also a town that still, despite recent, overwhelming development, was rich in the tall pines and deciduous trees that inspired its name.

Those trees were the reason I bought the house in the first place. But that night, as the wind roared through the rows of trees that surround my house and I watched some of the pines shudder and seem to bend in half under the force of it, terror set in.

I envisioned the small house being crushed by falling trees and it didn’t seem unrealistic.

The windows began to shake as the wind and rain increased even more. The patio doors rattled under the force of it sounding for all the world like they would implode.

In absolute fear, I began to barricade the house – pulling the single mattress from the guest bed in the office and a foam mattress for extra guests folded up in the closet into the kitchen and shoving them up against the patio door.

I moved all portable furniture into areas by windows that I thought could be vulnerable.

Midway through this last gasp effort, I noticed that James, such a recent member of the household, was shadowing me as I moved each piece of furniture, sticking with the effort throughout – paying such attention that he actually seemed to be supervising.

When it reached the point where there was nothing more to move, it was James who strode like a feline John Wayne down the hallway to the master bed room, the one room in the house not surrounded on the outside by trees, as if to say, “this is your best bet pilgrim.”

I believe he picked up on my abject fear because this naturally very curious and adventurous cat stayed by my side for the rest of the night.

Without light and heat in the days that followed, he also put up gracefully with the arrival of four cats owned by a friend who had lost his house to the storm. The cats set up camp in the master bed room for over a month until temporary quarters were found.

James, not known in the shelter for playing well with others, tolerated the newcomers who remained sequestered behind the closed door. He adapted well to being relegated to the cramped quarters in the office room with me at night.

Throughout it all, he retained the swagger and grace for which he has come to be known around the village where we live.

I marvel at how this handsome old guy is regarded by some as “macho” – yes, that term has actually floated in the air as menfolk regard him strutting down the street on his daily constitutional wearing his halter like a cape.

Women, who appreciate his regal gate, are more inclined to call him “King James” and often invite him – and me only as an after thought – into their houses for a social call.

On his walks, he inspects the neighborhood with the same air of interest and oversight that he lent to the night of Superstorm Sandy and the days and nights that followed. In the evening, he patrols the house, making sure night visiting kitties don’t encroach in his territory.

Venerable in age, worthy of rescue and quite a character, the years have only added to his appeal.  Now that I know about National Cat Day, I look forward to saluting him again next year on Oct. 29.

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Encountering Sister Caroline Cerveny, a “Franciscan techie” with soul

Sister Caroline Cerveny

Sister Caroline Cerveny

When I signed up to attend the recent Technology Summit II: Technology in Parish Life in Villanova University, I did it expecting to spend the day in an alternate universe rather like the ones Captains Kirk and Piccard often encounter on Star Trek episodes where the aliens look like you should be able to communicate with them but, without a very good translator, you can’t.

Going in with the skills of a glorified computer typist, flip-top cell phone wedged into the deepest recesses of my purse and not an iPad or tablet to my name, I was armed only with an urge to soak up some crumbs of knowledge, some insights on getting up to the digital speed so necessary for contemporary communications.

I worried that a raft of millennial and even younger presenters could dash that hope with a flow of factoids, tips, techniques and trends above my skill set. Never once did I anticipate encountering an age appropriate role model.

As it turned out, the anticipated millennial “Geeks” never materialized. In their place were well seasoned “Geeks” of a certain age, all pioneers in the field of helping the faithful navigate the highways and byways of cyberspace. Among them was Sister Caroline Cerveny, founder of Internet Connections, who specializes in faith based educational technology and digital catechesis.

During her break out session, Sister Caroline, a Sister of St. Joseph, Third Order of St. Francis, scored immediate points with me by dating herself — all the way back to 1983 — when she made first cyberspace contact by way of an encounter between a 12-year-old consumer and a Radio Shack salesman.

Recalling that encounter, Sister Caroline said she realized that she “didn’t understand a word they were saying” throughout the pair’s lengthy conversation.  But as those moments ticked away, she did realize that something new was in the wind and that if she didn’t explore what it was all about, as an educator and catechist, she would soon be out of date.

She recalls “picking the brains” of people she knew — including her brother who was employed by a data company — to get some insight and setting out with him on a shopping trip over Thanksgiving vacation to learn more about the computers that were available in those early days including an Apple Lisa which she remembers as “very expensive” and not in the budget.

At the time, she was the diocesan consultant for junior high education in Chicago and she recognized that the technology could be a boon for Catholic education. But she took some time and did a lot of networking and reaching out to those who were also early pioneers in the field, coming up with a plan that would encourage her religious order to embark support for encouraging the use of the technology in ministry.

Over the years, her interests and expertise grew to the point where it became her mission and mainstay. At 71, the popular speaker and author describes herself as “not a geek” but as someone who uses technology tools to enhance learning.

She views this technology as a boon for people of all ages and points to the many ways it can benefit seniors, primary among them, she says is “keeping connected to the global world.”

It’s a brain stimulator, she says. “What you can learn on line is incredible,” says Sister Caroline  who calls time spent on the internet especially beneficial to the scores of “life long learners” among the seniors. “You get to choose from the best source material,” she said. “You get to stay in contact with people and that is so important. You get to stay curious and creative and young at heart,” said Sister Caroline.

She added that she was glad to see quite a few “grey heads” bringing their own going curiosity to the conference. It’s clear, she said, that they are “riding the wave of what’s happening.”


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Selective Seconds: where faith, good works and Facebook intersect

When a newly married couple was searching for a very particular art print as a present for the bride’s soon to be married sister, they didn’t go window OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAshopping.

Instead, they browsed Facebook and Craig’s List. It wasn’t long before they found a framed copy of the print — entitled “Wedding Day” — at Selective Seconds, a high quality furniture and accessories store operated as a fundraising venture by the dedicated St. Vincent de Paul volunteers of St. Rose Parish, Belmar.

The couple, who traveled an hour both ways to fetch the print — a traditional gift for newly married couples in their family — were just the latest in a growing list of folks who have found just what they were looking for in the shop with the help of digital media. Included among them, a lady from Long Island who hurried down to claim two chairs after she spied them in the Selective Seconds photo gallery on Facebook.

There was also the fabulous Pulaski triple Edwardian dresser that a gentleman regarded as such a prize, he had it shipped to his home in Louisiana, said Margaret More, who lends her considerable talents as director of Selective Seconds.

“He had all the other pieces of  the set which had been discontinued. He wanted to complete it and he when he found it here, he never haggled, he just said OK,” More said with a big smile as she surveyed the empty spot in the store where the huge dresser and its mirror stood only a few weeks before.

“That was our biggest ever!”

Now, local folks have been checking out what’s available in Selective Seconds since the Vincentians opened it a few years back but getting it onto Craig’s List and Facebook has opened the shop’s horizons exponentially said More and Kathy Alexander who manages the day-to-day operations.

Tucked into the parking lot of Belmar Plaza just across from the dollar store and a stone’s throw from the railroad tracks, it’s a busy place on the days it’s officially open: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s even busy on the days it’s officially closed: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when the volunteers handle many weekly chores including deliveries, cleaning and scrubbing (“making sure we’re good to go” as Moore puts it) and then, “zhuzzing” their term for staging the rooms in the former warehouse to show off the merchandise at its best.

The “zhuzzing” includes sweetly scented candles for ambiance, walls accented by white lights strung through grapevine, etc., all of which adds to the boutique atmosphere the Vincentians have been fostering since they took on this challenge.

In a case of true serendipity, the enterprise was born out of a furniture outreach for those in need that began in 2011. More and Alexander shared how one day the Vincentians were contacted by a man who wanted to give away the home goods from the condominium of his daughter, who had recently died.

“There were so many things, beautiful things — cut glass chandeliers, crystal, furnishing and household goods,” More said. “He said that if we didn’t take it, he would throw it away.”

His offer led to a “brain storm,” More said. Belmar was soon to hold a town-wide garage sale and the volunteers decided to plunge in with merchandise from the condominium and did very well. Things took off from there, first in an annex of St. Rose High School which they were able to use for the summer. Sales there totaled totaled $15,000 in 12 weeks.

With generous donations of fine merchandise flowing in from a host of people who supported the Vincentian fund raiser, it wasn’t long before Selective Seconds moved to its present location — “it was a mess” Alexander said, “but Margaret was able to see it without the walls”. A whole lot of energy and willpower, not to mention the continuous outpouring of generous donations, have made it what it is today, they said.

They are very specific that the focus is totally on raising funds to help those in need.  “We’re all about free” where operating costs are concerned,  More said. “We take every step to avoid incurring expenses. We don’t pay for anything — even the electric,” she said, stressing that point as she turned on the string of lights that illumine the decorative grape vine swag.

“Everything is donated, even the fixtures,” she noted. “We’re very tight. We want the money from sales to go where it is needed.”

Alexander smiled and added: “frugal, we’re frugal. … We want the dollars to do double duty” for those who rely on the good works of St. Vincent de Paul.

More, a one time marketing director, explained that advertising on Facebook and Craig’s List fits into that plan. “It’s free and what that means, as an example, is that more electric bills get paid.  … This all comes from the heart.  It’s not just business, it’s what we believe in and do. It’s our story.”

Selective Seconds is located at 911 Main Street, Belmar  (in the rear of the building.) Find it at,  Craig’s List, call 732-894-9393 or go to

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Rallying and Roamin’ in Town and Gown

In many university towns, it’s typical to refer to “Town and Gown” when speaking of the different ways life is viewed on the campus and in the public square.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This last week, I had the chance to roam in both — the stately and vibrant campus of Georgian Court University in Lakewood and the gritty immediate surrounds of the U.S. Post Office in downtown Lakewood.  It was an amazing and instructive bit of roaming, let me tell you.

First, there was  the Sept. 23 visit of  Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. to GCU to celebrate Mass with the Sisters of Mercy, the faculty, administration, staff and community at large in honor of Mercy Day.

A special part of what is an annual, start of the school year visit, is bishop’s sit down with student leaders that follows the Mass. With bishop — a lifelong academic who was president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for 13 years — leading the way, that session is always a free flowing exchange of insights and ideas, the kind of hour and a half or so that could uplift the spirits of even the most fossilized  seasoned souls.

Put simply enough, the bishop gets the students and the students get the bishop. Check out their insights and exchanges on

The students jumped right in when he asked for their insights on what makes them hopeful , what worries them and what they feel they will be able to contribute to society at large in the future.

They, in turn wanted his take on those same questions.

For me, the high point came when the bishop asked them to reflect on the good works the Church has done — to “look at the good, look at Mercy, look at people of faith ” and  “to stand for something  … speak up for the faith and to understand that  just because you may not have the same beliefs, doesn’t mean you can’t walk down the street” with your neighbors at large.

A few days later, I had the chance to see GCU students put those sentiments into practice in the public square when some of them hoisted signs at a rally to garner signatures on a petition to save the landmark, 1938 WPA built U.S. Post Office on Clifton Avenue which is slated for closure.

Students of GCU sociology professor Dr. Rumu Das Gupta, an ardent advocate of making your societal concerns public, the young people joined quite a few seniors like myself and folks frankly of all ages, in a last ditch effort to call attention to the looming loss of the building. If it goes, a smaller sub station will replace it in the densely settled downtown area and the main operation will be located in the Lakewood Industrial Park, 3.8 miles away from downtown.

Like Das Gupta, a member of St. Anthony Claret Parish down the road,  who has been active in the public square since 1967  and Eugene Espinoza of the Puerto Rican Action Board, who has been a community activist for 38 years, who were with them, the students “get” the fact that anyone who needs to access the main branch in the industrial park will need a car to do so.  That’s a hard nut for a whole lot of residents of the very diverse downtown area to crack.

Signs in hand, the students graciously invited all within earshot to sign the petitions and within a little more than an hour, they had garnered more than 150 signatures reflecting all residents and age groups of the community: Hispanic, African-American and Anglo residents,  many segments of the diverse Jewish community as well.

The students included Isalin Howard, a grad student in accounting, Nataya Culler, a “super senior” who will graduate this coming year with a degree in humanities and biology and Edwana Hollowanger. They shared with passersby that they use the post office themselves to return or buy text books. They explained that they don’t have cars and if they needed to get to the industrial park, they would have to find a ride.

“If you don’t have a car this will affect you,” Culler said. “A person who is poor will be affected.”

Hollowanger, a member of Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton, said that this was the first public square rally the students had participated in. It thrilled them, she said, to have people representing the whole community, sign the petitions. The effort, she said, represented just what the students in a Mercy University should go about doing.


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On the Road to Roamin’ Catholic Seniors

Welcome to the first post of Roamin’ Catholic Seniors!Lois shoes walking700px

For most of the summer, this new blog has been a work in progress and it kept me on the move. While I didn’t exactly need running shoes, I kept my walking and driving shoes on, canvassing the diocese for insight and information to share.

Hopefully, the results will begin fulfilling a longstanding dream to explore, investigate, enjoy and fill readers in on a wide range of topics dear to the seasoned Catholic soul. Expect observations that run the gamut from the spiritual to the sacred to social concerns and helpful tips and hints gathered with your insights and suggestions.

This new blog had been evolving as a dream of mine for some time – sparked really in the ’90s when an insightful editor on the secular paper I worked at switched my assignment from a general beat to something he called“Senior Living.”

Back then, I didn’t take it as a compliment and immediately responded by returning my prematurely grey hair to its long-unnatural red state, replacing a pastel four-door sedan with a red hatchback and getting contact lenses.

It’s clear now that this editor – let’s call him “Barry” – must have had some form of second sight. It didn’t take long before becoming enamored of the new specialty and the people and topics I got to write about.

Central New Jersey was exploding with senior villages – rich then as now – with interesting residents: composers, artists, film people, Broadway performers, scientists – regular people with interesting hobbies, people who were secure economically and those who weren’t and often struggled to make do.

And they reflected an astonishing diversity. From city folks of all cultures re-acclimating to suburbia to descendants of the earliest settlers of the area, they were a goldmine of stories and insights, pertinent not only to their own age group but society in general.

They were a gift.

Though the “Senior Living Section” didn’t last that long, the experience was profound. I learned how to listen, really listen to the stories they told and how share them. I learned to appreciate so many people and came to think of them as “Living Treasures” – the honorific Japanese bestow on gifted elders.

Over the years, and throughout the more than a decade of work for The Monitor, I especially enjoyed writing stories focused on what the French would deliciously refer to as faithful “of a certain age.”

Edging closer to retirement, I began to draw up what some people might refer to as a“bucket list” of writing projects. In Catholic terms, I thought of it more as a creative litany. At the top of a list that includes a series of mystery novels and a return to writing movie reviews, was what turned out to be this new blog.

Envisioned as a wide ranging forum about and for us “living treasures,” look for it every Thursday.

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Welcome to Roamin’ Catholic Seniors

A blog for seniors in the Diocese of Trenton. Visit often for spiritual and inspirational anecdotal stories about seniors.

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