Over 50 years ago, the Berks County Senior Citizens Council was founded at the directive of the Berks County Commissioners who recognized the ongoing concerns of the county’s aging population. It was because of their directive to the United Community Services that a “study and recommendations be made to establish a Senior Citizens Activity Center in Berks County” that the nonprofit was founded in April 1965. The agency has grown since then, changing its name to Berks Encore in 2008, but never losing its passion for providing programs and services to the county’s older adults.
Within a few weeks of the study, it was determined that a senior center could be established with funding from both the state and county. With the assistance of a group of interested individuals, incorporation papers were approved on June 1, 1965, and the Berks County Senior Citizens Council became a reality.
The first center was housed in the basement of the Berkshire Hotel. With a membership of 22, Frank Ruch was appointed as the first executive director. Programs included shuffleboard, card playing, guitar lessons, art and music. As the group expanded its scope of activity, members grew accordingly. Crafts, food sales, hospital visitations and the introduction of the Meals on Wheels program soon became part of the daily operations and center programming. By 1970, the facility could no longer house the growing activities and moved to larger quarters on Penn Street – at least for a short term.
By 1974 numerous senior clubs were being organized throughout the county and began affiliating with the Berks County Senior Citizens Council. At that time, 4,800 senior club members made up the majority of the agency’s 7,000 members. With a growing membership base, the decision was made to build the first senior center facility within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The groundbreaking ceremonies for the Horizon Center, located on a vacant lot at the corner of 9th and Court streets in Reading, were held on August 14, 1974. On November 17, 1975, the new structure was dedicated with well-deserved pomp and circumstance.
Positioning for the Future
In late 2007, the members voted to change the agency’s name to Berks Encore to recognize the years after the age of 50 as the encore of one’s life, and incorporate a new tag line “Applauding Life After 50.” The change resulted from people confusing Berks County Senior Citizens Council with a government agency. In addition, many Baby Boomers shied away from the agency simply because they did not consider themselves to be senior citizens.
Since the branding change, Berks Encore has continued to grow and expand its services to meet the needs of Berks County’s aging community as well as their family members and caregivers.
As we look to the future of aging services here in Berks County, we know that much of what has traditionally been viewed as “old age” is going to get a good bit older. It is probable that people will, on average, work longer and reach “old age” in somewhat better shape, and with higher expectations of service delivery. Today’s older adult population will be with us tomorrow, and will be more diverse.
The challenge, as we think about the future of aging services, is to remember that diversity has many elements. There will be many with insufficient resources to meet their needs. At Berks Encore, we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to serve the aging community. When you support Berks Encore, you are supporting an agency that actively sets high expectations for accountability, positive community impact, and efficient use of public and private funds. We are your “go to” resource in Berks County for aging services.