Aging on the south side | Slideshows | Chicago Reader

Aging on the south side 

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Pat Nabong
Yoga teacher Tony Stevens, who lives in Calumet Heights, used to serve as a caregiver for several people in his family who were sick. Now, he is committed to living a healthy lifestyle.
Pat Nabong
Older adults attend a free yoga class taught by Tony Stevens in the senior satellite center in Abbott Park in Roseland.
Pat Nabong
Older adults attend a free yoga class taught by Tony Stevens in the senior satellite center in Abbott Park in Roseland.
Pat Nabong
Betty Griffin, 77, poses for a portrait. To her, aging on the South Side has been "a very positive thing." Griffin, who has lived in Morgan Park since 1969, loves yoga. "We tend to limit ourselves once we get at a certain age group or something. I hear, ‘I'm old, I can't do that. I can't.’ So I've never said anything like that. As a matter of fact, it opened up more avenues of what I realized I could do.”
Pat Nabong
On Father’s Day, Carlton Brown, 72, waits for a table while his 13-year-old daughter has her eyes glued to her phone. It is challenging to keeping up with technology and the changing system, said Brown. Often, he feels like he is "on the outside looking in." "We don't quite understand the system that they have today and most of us get left out of the things that we qualify for because we don't know and that's a big issue [in the] medical field," he said.
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Carlton Brown, 72, drops off his neighbors at a grocery store in Oak Lawn. "I was raised to help people that I can help and that's why I do what I do around here," said Brown who drives residents of the Auburn Gresham senior building they live in wherever they need to go. "One day I'll probably gonna need the same thing but right now I don't, so I make myself useful while I can."
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Carlton Brown, 72, who is diabetic, had to have one of his toes removed. To Brown, keeping up with the changing system and insurance policies are some of the biggest challenges as an older adult. He did not know that his insurance only covered six referrals. "When those six referrals ran out, they won't see me again unless I pay a hundred dollars ... I know what to do now, but today I'm up in my 70's now and I'm just learning this and the way I learn it was by having a toe removed."
Pat Nabong
Joe Boyd, 82, gets some sunshine outside the senior building he lives in in Auburn Gresham. "A lot of times as you get older, [people] leave you, you know what I mean? One by one," said Boyd, a veteran who often reflects on his life. "I've been ups and down, around and around ... I cry a lot and it's because of happiness and joy."
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Marcia Cozzi, center, stretches with other members of the Chicago Hyde Park Village during their bi-monthly drop-in where seniors can exercise and interact with other community members over lunch. The Village was formed to help members remain active and involved in their community.
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Susan Alitto, one of the founding members of Chicago Hyde Park Village, an organization that aims to keep older adults involved in the community and battle loneliness.
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The view from Darnetta Donegan's apartment in a low-income senior building in Washington Park.
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“I don't wanna get old,” said Darnetta Donegan, 69, who lives alone in a senior building in Washington Park. "When I see someone my age and they're getting around worse than I am, you know they're in a wheelchair or broken up really bad or mentally gone, that's when you think about it and feel bad about it … I used to take care of people that had all kinds of disorder, so but now I'm living here with it … After a while it gets a little depressing. I stay in prayer quite a bit."
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Della Freeman, 91, lives alone in a senior building in Auburn Gresham. "I always like to do things for myself,” said Freeman who declined when she was offered a free homemaker to help her with chores. "I do all of my cleaning, cooking and going around like that for myself ... That's exercise for me," said Freeman. She wears a device that she can press whenever she has an emergency. It sends an alert to a staff in the building.
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Ruthie Doss, 72, has retinal degeneration and occasionally loses her vision temporarily. Doss enjoys living in a senior building in Washington Park, but she is concerned about the neighborhood. "Even though fast food is not good for us, we should have something that we can just [walk] a block or half a block to...Everything is a distance that we have to travel a certain distance to get to everything." Doss also talked about crime. "I like to walk and now I got to be careful. I can't go out and walk like I want to ... I'm a person that's not afraid though."
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Dianne Hodges, 69, shops at Whole Foods in South Loop. Hodges, who lives in South Shore, said there are not enough resources in her neighborhood that keep older adults healthy. "I never shopped in the community anyway because they had a Dominick's here for years and I never really shopped in that Dominick's because that Dominick's was so different from the North Side … but I understood why it was different because it's not, they would try to bring in organic vegetables and things like that and they would just rot because the people were not, you know, were not buying them."
 Hodges, who teaches meditation and belly dancing, had a mini stroke and since then, she has "had to really work to reverse some things that would have caused me to be like most elders in my age group" through a healthy diet and lifestyle.
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Becky Clark, service coordinator of New Pisgah Haven Homes in Auburn Gresham, serves food during the senior building's Father's Day Cookout. “They kids, they're all busy. Every now and then you see 'em and then you don't,” said Carlton Brown, 72. Because of this, many residents look to Clark for support. "[Becky] did a lot for me and the people here," said Joe Boyd, 82. Brown wishes there were more people like her who can explain “all the ins and out of being a senior,” like healthcare.
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Eva Early, 73, lives alone in a senior building in Auburn Gresham. A framed photo of her granddaughter and late son are displayed prominently on her living room’s center table. The frames normally face the couch. "They here with me so I could watch them and they watch me," said Early who said she is happy and content with her life even though she does not see her granddaughter often. "I talk to them ... I just look at the picture sometime and I do, you know, wish he was here and then I look over there and say, there you are there, you know. Hey granddaughter, you know ... I know that if he was in here, he'd be here seeing ‘bout his momma, you know. That's it. That's what makes me serious, kinda old and sometimes lonesome. He's not here."
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Residents of New Pisgah Haven Homes, a senior building in Auburn Gresham, eat together during the Father's Day Cookout— just one of the building’s weekly events that keep older adults busy. "A lot of people think when you come to a place like this, you come in here to die ... But that's not why I come here," said Carlton Brown, 72, who has been living in the building for about 11 years now. "If you live in a building like this, it's what they call a congregation, a peoples that are around together."
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Barnetta Willard, 79, lives in a low-income senior building in Washington Park. “I told my son he can't put me in a nursing home … Being independent is very necessary … Things are happening that try to help make sure that we stay independent. I guess the only drawback is that in our culture, seniors pretty much have to take care of themselves. Like in [Asian] culture, the grandma, grandma and grandpa lives with somebody in the family ... As African-Americans when people start aging, the family goes, the kids go off and do their thing, you know, and unless there's a real serious illness, mom and dad take care of themselves."
Pat Nabong
A portrait of Joseph Hardy, 69, who used to live in a house with his sister, where he often heard sirens and saw people loitering. “As a senior, I can't deal with that and you know seniors are more prone to be held up or killed.” Now, he lives alone in a senior building in Washington Park, which he said is a “pretty decent neighborhood.” He is still cautious and is part of the Telephone Tree program, which involves older adults who spend a lot of time at home and look out their window. When they see something suspicious, they call one another and all call the police. "The more calls to the police department, they will respond...If you have on for two calls going to them, they're not going to respond,” said Hardy.
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Yvette Gresham, 59, has been Lillie Smith's homemaker for about four years now and they think of each other as extended family. Sometimes, people mistake them for mother and daughter. Having a homemaker makes life easier for Smith and makes her feel more comfortable going outside. "I used to walk out here and get the bus, but now I'm afraid to walk out," said Smith who lives in Auburn Gresham. "There's too much happening. They grabbing old people, throwing 'em down ... And so now, I don't go out there [alone] ... She go with me."
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Yvette Gresham, 59, helps Lillie Smith get ready. For the past four years, Gresham has been Smith's homemaker, who is paid by the City. Smith qualified for a homemaker after a heart surgery. "I don't know if [some seniors] got help cos I see 'em sometimes and I wonder, do they have anybody?" said Smith, who considers Greshma her extended family. "I know the government will provide because my help here comes through an agency...And I wonder why do they have to be out there alone by themself."
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Jerry Gripshover and Sam Guard leave a tip at Piccolo Mondo in Hyde Park. Gripshover and Guard are part of a men's group composed of Hyde Park residents that meet at least twice a month to socialize. Social isolation among older adults is one of their biggest concerns.
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Antonio Sanders, member of the Senior Clown Troupe, dances with older adults during the Englewood Exclusively Us Senior’s Day Celebration. Sanders and the Senior Clown Troupe performs for older adults in nursing homes and retirement centers. "Clowning means to me being fun, keeping positive feeling, making someone that is sad, make them happy. Talk about positive things when they talk about sad things, so you make a sad situation to a positive situation. I really love that because it's my whole life and I grew up clowning," said Sanders, who started clowning when he was 17 years old and worked for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus for a year and a half. As he grows older, clowning has become a more important part of his life. "Clowning is not always being in the circus all the time. It's everyday life.”
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Rashid C., 72, used to live in a senior building at 42nd and Cottage Grove, which, according to him, was infested with rats, bed bugs and cockroaches. Now he lives in Washington Park, a few blocks away from where he was born. He says the neighborhood changed a lot during his lifetime. "They didn't have this many vacant lots and stuff. All these were buildings and different stores. The [money's] going right out the community whereas before they had a black store, a black shoe shine shop, a black cleaners, a black everything but now all these other nationalities own businesses in our communities...It's really the government's fault that we're in the situation we're in as black people, really. They don't really reach out to the black community. I mean, we got food deserts around here. I'm fortunate to have a car but if you don't have a car, I don't know where you would go shopping here." Rashid, who is a former drug user and spent his life "in and out of prison," maintains a healthy lifestyle and a plant-based diet. He said he had a "spiritual awakening" when he overdosed and someone found him passed out in the middle of the street.
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To Alicia McCarthy, 64, commuting on the South Side is challenging as an older adult. “ I have at least three buses to catch to get to some very important places and it's quite a bit of walking in between the bus stops because they don't make good connection all the time,” said McCarthy. She almost got hit by cars several times, she said. "We need to do something about these RTA officials downtown who don't never catch any buses ... They're living in a vacuum by themselves."
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Pat Nabong
Older adults attend a free yoga class taught by Tony Stevens in the senior satellite center in Abbott Park in Roseland.

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