by Barbara Sherf

Members of the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment received word on Monday morning that with the help of three anonymous “angels,” the center will remain open. From left (seated) Rina Marcolina and Velma Whitlock. Standing (from left) Mary Hayes, CHCE Board President Marilyn Paucker, Lucille Mullings, Board Member Jackie Yorko, Annie Hayes, Executive Director Mary Zell and Rina Fesnak. In addition to the angels coming forward, landlord Richard Snowden of Bowman Properties is waiving the rent for a year. (Photo by Barbara Sherf)

What a difference a week makes. Following word a week ago Monday that the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment (formerly Senior Center) was closing by the end of the year due to finances, three anonymous angels and the center’s landlord have come to the rescue.

Board President Marilyn Paucker received a call on Monday night, Nov. 29, from one anonymous donor who had received the letter that went out to friends and members just before Thanksgiving announcing the closing of the 32-year-old institution.

“Other letters went out on Monday, and by Wednesday, once the article in the Local hit, two other “angels” came forward,” Paucker said.

After learning abut the generous donations Pauker met with landlord Richard Snowden of Bowman Properties and their discussions turned from establishing a timeline to clear out the furniture and shut off utilities to discussing the availability of the building in the 8400 block of Germantown Avenue for another year.

“At that point he said he would lease the property to us for the next year rent free and that he would help to raise additional funds,” Paucker said. “I was just shocked.

In a release from the CHCE, Snowden said he was pleased to help out the center.

“We were inspired to increase our commitment by the wonderful gifts from you donors,” he said.

So a week after coping with certain doom, Paucker went to the center’s board meeting last Thursday night with the news of the donors coming forward and the rent-free offer from Snowden.

“We were supposed to discuss the closure, but it turned into a lengthy and invigorating meeting about how to go forward,” she said. “We are going to try to act smarter with our money and we are exploring building an endowment. Everybody is energized by the generosity of these angels, our landlord, and the outpouring from the community.”

The first group to publicly hear the news was the Craft Group, who were featured in the initial story about the closing of CHCE.

Paucker and Mary Zell entered the main meeting space this past Monday to share the new news to the crafters.

“Thanks to the angels and the article in the Local, we are moving forward.  This will be known as The Miracle on Germantown Avenue,” Paucker told the group of women.

“What a lovely Christmas present,” said Lucille Mullings as she hugged Zell and the others.

Zell praised Paucker’s efforts.

“We have the best board president ever,” she said. “She has worked non-stop this past week to make this happen.”

Zell said the group was proud to have paid the modest rent since relocating in March 2008,

“But at this point we have to take whatever comes our way,” she said. “We are grateful.”

Other members of the craft group were overjoyed by the news.

“We believe in Santa Claus,” said Rina Fesnak, 86, who has lived in Chestnut Hill for 83 years and whose birthday was celebrated at the center last Monday.

“Never say never,” said longtime crafter and artist Velma Whitlock, who was busy organizing the crafts that were leftover from a weekend craft show.

Paucker told the gathering that the women needed to help with fundraising and getting new members involved.

“We don’t want to be in the same situation a year from now,” she said.

“What we have is a little nest here,” said member Mary Hayes. “That’s what it feels like, a nest. Thank God for those angels.”

CHCE members, friends and the public is invited to a CHCE Holiday Celebration on Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m .at the Center on the Hill at the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church.  Donations to CHCE can be sent to CHCE, 8431 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118.  For more information about CHCE programs go to www.chenrichment.org.

Barbara sherf can be reached at 215-233-8022 or Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.