Film shows spirit and value of senior center

Sitting on the steps of Center on the Square, from left, custodian Roberto Roman, film director Peter Odabashian and Loretta Wilson, in charge of food service. Roman and Wilson are featured prominently in Odabashian’s film about the Village senior center. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY | The film “Somewhere To Be” offers a glimpse into the diversity of interests of Village seniors and is a powerful testament to the value of senior centers in New York City.

Peter Odabashian’s documentary takes you behind the doors of Center on the Square, the Greenwich House senior center on the north side of Washington Square Park. The center occupies the lower two floors of the building, the rest of which is a Sisters of Charity convent.

The center, at 20 Washington Square North, is a sort of “Cheers” for elders (without the alcohol), where everyone knows your name, or at least the three staff members try to.

Center on the Square members recently got a sneak preview of the film, programmed with the upcoming DOCNY Film Festival, American’s largest documentary film festival. The screening, at the SVA Theater on W. 23rd St., was sold-out. Councilmember Margaret Chin, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Aging, was there, and the film’s cast and director did a Q&A with the audience afterward.

Odabshian’s career as a film and sound editor and producer/director laid the groundwork before he completed his first solo documentary, “Old Friends,” in 2015.

Two years ago, he joined his friend Albert Elia for lunch at the Center on the Square. For 13 years, following Elia’s retirement from Parsons as an instructor in fashion illustration, he has found camaraderie at this center.

Odabashian, 69, agreed with his friend that the center was filled with interesting characters. And so began his filmmaking journey at the senior center.

From October 2016 to March 2017, he, along with his camera, was an intermittent presence there.

The center’s committed director, Laura Marceca, introduces you to this place where everyone is welcome — “from those living on Fifth Ave. to those who are homeless,” as she puts it.

“We treat everyone the same,” she said, while acknowledging how they try to give more attention to those who seem to need it.

Lunch is the hub of the center. In the film, with an assertive voice, the late Gina Zuckerman volunteers to “call the numbers” for lunch, so that people are served in an orderly fashion. This nonagenarian was a Holocaust survivor who retired from  advertising work. She fought off a mugger in the Village in 2016.

It’s not a place for your typical holiday parties, Director Marceca explains, noting this population seeks more in-depth forms of engagement.

Odabashian brings you into the rhythms of  meals, classes and performances.

Interspersed with the musings from more than 12 of the center’s many regulars, Odabashian brings his camera to the classes, such as Italian and creative writing.

He shares the singing lessons and chorus, as well as tai chi and Chinese painting. Members are not shy when it comes to their salsa classes or dancing to the rock and roll from Washington Square Park musicians.

Included in the film are profiles of the two staff. For custodian Roberto Roman, a Vietnam War vet and a senior who got the job after volunteering for a year, the center is like family to him.

Loretta Wilson greets everyone while she serves the meals and reveals that she’s carrying on her mother’s legacy of loving to serve food.

A testament to the Center’s value is the philosophical Rick Hill speaking about how people want to age in place.

“What stands out for me is the kindness people show each other,” Odabashian says, “and how everybody, with their eccentricities, is treated as an individual.”

Center director Marceca says of the sentiments so well illustrated in the film, “I’m proud of the community that we created.”

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