Berks Encore Announces Senior Poetry Contest Winners

Poetry 1

Berks Encore partnered with the Reading Public Library for this year’s Senior Poetry Contest. A record 90 poems were entered into this year’s contest.

The Berks Encore Senior Poetry Contest was initiated in 2000 by world traveler and poet Harold “Bill” DeLong. A poet himself, Harold began the contest on his 80th birthday in an effort to share his love of poetry with Berks County older adults. Unfortunately Harold passed away at his home in New York City in the spring of 2011. Since Harold’s death, his friend Andrey Aleksandrov has continued to provide the funding for the contest prizes in Harold’s memory.  Berks Encore partnered with the Reading Public Library System for this year’s contest.

The 2015 contest received a record number of entries reflecting the county’s tremendous population of talented senior poets. Congratulations to all the winners as well as to all those who entered the contest!


Poetry 2 Ollie Koelher

First Place: Ollie Koelher, “Sharing”

The old man sitting in a booth with his wife

steadies his shaky hands to cut a piece of cheesecake in half

He studies it like a diamond cutter ready to cleave a precious gem

Tension in his face, holding the place with his left hand,

he makes the perfect equal cut from the front point to the back.

Using the extra plate the waitress brought, he serves his wife.

Slowly unrolling the napkin she places the knife, fork, and spoon,

tucks the white starched napkin under her chin,

and reaches across to the middle of the table

where their eyes and hands meet.




Second Place: James Bostic, “Dragon Skies,”

In shimmering hazes all gone by

In summer’s glimmerings I could spy


In reckless might,

Shearing                                                                                              air


Spltting                                                                                 flight.

In feckless youth I watched them fly

Then                                                                      hover

In the thermal sky

To wheel                                                                                             and soar

And come to light

Upon the cattails’ growing height.

Now all the landscape’s gone awry,

For shop marts rise where ponds would lie—

Where are those lacey wings so slight

That plied the air like dancing kites?

Of shimmering hazes all gone by

My memory keeps the                                                                  dragon-



Third Place, Ginny Rathman, “The Wind Is Brewing Up Trouble”

The wind is brewing up trouble in the canopies of the trees.

Lines are crossed by the newly created trespassers, causing peaceful neighbors to come to blows.

Tree limbs becoming swords, lashing, slashing and parrying they spar.

The instigating wind quickly tiring of its game, quietly wisps away.

Leaves wave their surrender, a truce agreed by all.

Exhausted trees lay down their limbs, becoming peaceful neighbors again.

Poetry 3


More than a Meal, by Sarah Hunter-Lascoskie

While we celebrate our volunteers and community during the current March for Meals campaign, it’s important to never lose sight of the tremendous impact of the simple act of delivering a meal. During my Friday delivery, I knocked on the door of my second stop, and realized that the man inside was in distress. Recognizing his pain I called 9-1-1 and was able to stay by his side until an ambulance arrived.

Despite his pain, he was apologetic about both his condition and his perceived imposition on my schedule of the day– a notion I worked hard to dismiss. “It’s what we’re here for,” I noted. Yes, I was at his home to deliver a meal; but in reality I was doing much more than that. Meals on Wheels deliveries are able to combat two serious issues facing all too many seniors: hunger and isolation.

Meals on Wheels, as we at Berks Encore have said many times, is more than a meal. It is a community lifeline made possible by a daily check-in. Delivering a meal allows us to guarantee seniors receive vital nutrition each day– but the personal visit can mean more in terms of personal independence and health than we may realize.

Meals on Wheels America’s most recent pilot study can also back up what we experience each weekday with numbers. Its study noted that 71 percent of seniors needing Meals on Wheels report fair or poor health, compared to 26 percent of average seniors. In this study and other research, Meals on Wheels America confirmed that Meals on Wheels recipients are the most vulnerable, and provided some eye-opening statistics regarding the impact of Meals on Wheels: 83 percent of Meals on Wheels clients say the service helps improve their overall health, and 86 percent of clients say it helps them feel more secure.

If you are a Meals on Wheels volunteer, we thank you for being our eyes, ears, and smile as you reach hundreds of seniors each day in Berks County. Our community is stronger for your efforts. And if you’ve ever wondered about how you can get more involved in your community, now is the time! You can help provide a meal–and more–to seniors across the county.

Thank you, Severin, for your legacy by Melissah Jablonski

On Monday, January 12, 2015, Severin Fayerman, 92, passed away at his home in Muhlenberg Township.  Fayerman founded Baldwin Hardware in 1946 with his father after leaving his homeland of Poland.  While he was a well-respected businessman, perhaps his greatest legacy is his story before he emigrated to the United States.  His story of surviving the concentration camps; surviving some of the darkest moments in history.  His mission became one of sharing this story with younger generations so the atrocities of the Holocaust are never forgotten so it is never repeated.

In 2010 Severin spoke at Berks Encore’s Senior Expo.  I met with him prior to it so I could write an article for Berks Encore News.  I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at his home. What I found was that we shared a love for pickles – he was jarring them when I arrived – and that while he was soft-spoken, he didn’t pull any punches when telling his story. He was thrilled that my last name was Polish and he spent hours telling me his story. Months later he opened his home again, this time for my daughter who was just learning about the Holocaust. Julia received a very special one-on-one account of Severin’s personal time in the concentration camps. He told her how he survived when others perished. He made sure she understood why this can never happen again. He spared no detail, even showing her his tattoo. As many of those who visited Severin did, we left his home with an autographed copy of his biography. I wish I had met him earlier than I did. You can bet that I will be making pickles this summer using his recipe.

The following are excerpts from the article that appeared in the September 2010 issue of Berks Encore News.

A native of Poland, Severin Fayerman experienced first-hand the atrocities of the Second World War, having spent years in several concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Amazingly, both of his parents also survived and the three immigrated to the United States in 1946. With little more than a will to succeed, the family pooled their resources and purchased Baldwin Tool & Die. Today, Baldwin Hardware is recognized worldwide as producers of the ultimate in hardware design. In 2008 Fayerman retired from the company, but not from experiencing life. Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting with him knows that while he feels that it is his duty to share his experiences in the concentration camps, he prefers sharing the secret to surviving them; a secret that he continues to embrace each and every day. “The inevitable will come one day, so why worry about it?”

It’s a simple statement, yet it succinctly sums up Fayerman’s outlook on life. While there can be terrible, even horrific times in your life, life is short and it should be embraced and enjoyed.

“I survived some of the most horrible things in mankind,” he says. “Many historians say that the Holocaust was the worst thing to ever occur by mankind, even worse than the days of Ganges Khan. Nothing like it ever happened before, and to think that it happened in the 20th Century in a civilized country is amazing. One hundred years from now people will still be talking about the things that happened. I think about the brief horrors that I survived and then I think about how I came to America and looked at the opportunities and advantages here. I am truly living the American Dream.”

“Surviving the Concentration Camps taught me that life is so wonderful, especially after surviving what I did,” Fayerman admits. “I looked death in the face and I came out of it alive.”

As he approaches his 89th birthday, Fayerman’s goal is to encourage other retirees to keep moving forward and to keep learning.

“I worked for 62 years at Baldwin. I wondered what I would do once I retired. I’ve found that there aren’t enough hours in the day for me since I keep so busy,” he says with a chuckle and a gleam in his eye. “I keep myself active and I feel like I’m in my 50’s. It doesn’t end when you retire. I fill my day with activities.”

Even someone younger in years may have a difficult time keeping up with Fayerman. Each day he wakes by 7 a.m. and spends his day working in his garden, reading, taking classes at Reading Area Community College or visiting the library. He is a firm believer in continuing his education and expanding his horizons, as is evident in his current quest to master the Spanish language. In total, he’s fluent in seven languages.

After a short nap, which he proudly says is one of the perks of being retired, he enjoys time with his family listening to music or watching an opera before going to be by 11 p.m.

“I sleep soundly,” Fayerman admits. “I enjoy wonderful days filled with activities. There are a lot of things to do, so enjoy them and share them with someone. I encourage people to take up a project, something that they’ve always wanted to do, but never had time to do before they retired. I continue taking classes at Reading Area Community College. We have wonderful educational facilities and libraries in the area, so take advantage of them and don’t sit at home.”

“It doesn’t end when you retire,” Fayerman continues. “Older people really can enjoy many fruitful years if they remain active.”

Sharing is Contagious

We’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of donations and generous gifts we’ve received for our Meals on Wheels recipients as part of our Share the Love/Stuff the Cooler campaign. With less than one week left in the campaign, we wanted to highlight the generosity of both the people that frequent our centers and our local community.


Ruth Haring makes a donation at Berks Encore – Fleetwood

A recent article in the Reading Eagle highlighted the Share The Love campaign, including Berks Encore’s Stuff the Cooler program as well as Meals On Wheels Association of America’s partnership with Subaru of America. The article provided a broad overview of the campaign but also highlighted our amazing seniors. Coolers have overflowed at various centers and local businesses, and the movement is growing.

The article and the campaign’s mission provided a spark for other organizations to take action. The Service Excellence Team at Reading Hospital Post-Acute Rehabilitation Center began its own food drive, but needed a partner. Team lead Bonnie Shiner said, “When we saw the article in the paper, we knew it was a perfect fit.” Berks Encore’s Share the Love/Stuff the Cooler campaign received a boost in a big way.

One of the baskets full of generous donations from the Reading Hospital Post-Acute Rehabilitation Center.

One of the baskets full of generous donations from the Reading Hospital Post-Acute Rehabilitation Center.

Shiner and her colleagues created large baskets and holiday sacks and filled them with an amazing array of canned goods, other non-perishable food, and toiletry items. Seven large baskets, seven large sacks, and many grocery bags were distributed to our appreciative Meals on Wheels recipients. It was a wonderful holiday gift, and a reminder that gift giving is contagious. It can be awe-inspiring to watch a small gesture spark a large movement; in this case, Berks Encore’s centers inspired others county-wide to share the love this holiday season. Let your generosity be contagious!


Holiday sacks filled with non-perishables for Meals on Wheels recipients

Sharing the Love, Saving a Life by Melissah Jablonski

You may never know what lives you’ve touched, what lives you’ve saved.  Even though I work for a nonprofit agency and I know that our programs provide nutrition, education, and counseling to Berks County senior citizens, I sometimes forget the true impact of what we do each day at Berks Encore.

Earlier this month I participated in a live WEEU radio remote broadcast at Steve Moyer Subaru in conjunction with our Meals on Wheels “Share the Love” campaign.  Keith Weiser, Steve Moyer Sales Manager, spoke first.  His words were so sincere and their impact so strong that I couldn’t help but stare at him as he shared his story.

His mother received Meals on Wheels.  When she had a doctor’s appointment, she would leave a note asking the Meals on Wheels volunteer to leave her meal in a cooler that she placed outside of her door.  One day when her volunteer came to deliver a meal, she noticed that the meal from the day before was still in the cooler, untouched.  The volunteer was able to enter the home and found Keith’s mother lying on the floor next to her bed.  She had been lying there for nearly 24 hours without anyone knowing that she was injured.  Had it not been for that volunteer, it’s possible that Keith’s mother would have lain there even longer.

Keith shared a heartfelt thank you to every Meals on Wheels volunteer who not only delivers nutrition to homebound senior citizens, but also provides a second set of eyes to check on our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles or friends.

After he was finished, a woman sitting in the audience leaned over to me and said that she had heard this story before and each time she does, it makes her catch her breath a little.  Imagine knowing that you saved a life, she said.  Then I thought, imagine all those lives that are saved that we don’t know about.  Donors may not have the opportunity to see the impact of their gifts, yet without them our programs wouldn’t be possible.

As I count my blessings this holiday season, I will certainly include everyone who has made a donation to Berks Encore through time, talent or monetary donation to help ensure that our county’s older adults receive the services that they need; that they deserve.  Thank you for making a difference; thank you for saving a life.

Berks Encore salutes our veterans

Berks Encore staff attended the Veterans Breakfast at the Manor at Market Square, where Berks Encore’s Horizon Singers Choral Group performed.  The breakfast was a great opportunity to listen in on some amazing conversations and pay tribute to the service of so many brave Berks County individuals.

Marine Corps veteran Douglas W. Graybill Jr. details the history of Veterans Day

Marine Corps veteran Douglas W. Graybill Jr. details the history of Veterans Day

Bob Janks was an Air Corps cadet at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1945. Bob trained a number of cadets who saw action in World War II. Incredibly humble about his own service—he jokes, “I was on vacation in New Orleans in the early 1940s!”—he has championed the cause of his fellow veterans and friends, and gave an impassioned, impromptu speech. “They’re having a world of trouble,” he explained, noting that the costs of living and medication pushes many senior veterans to the brink. “I’ll talk to anyone who will listen,” he said, “And I appreciate all you do [at Berks Encore].”

Between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, a seventeen-year-old Paul Harnar entered the Navy and was stationed on an aircraft carrier that traveled the length of the East Coast of the United States. Paul’s family continued his legacy of service: his brother was a Navy captain and his son became a lieutenant in the Navy as well. After his service, Paul became a truck driver, logging thousands of miles across dozens of states, but was forced into early retirement due to MS. Paul entered the Manor only recently and spoke fondly of the Sinking Spring area that he called home for many years.

Here at Berks Encore we strive to honor our veterans and tell their stories. Thanks to Paul, Bob, and all veterans for your service!


Bob Janks, left, and Paul Harnar, right

My first week at Berks Encore, by Sarah Hunter-Lascoskie

Today marks the end of my first week at Berks Encore. The first few weeks at any new job require the typical orientation process: learning, observing, reading. Berks Encore, though, necessitates a bit more footwork as part of that equation. I had to meet my new coworkers, of course, but the list of people that will quickly become my partners—visitors to the various centers, board members, and volunteers—is huge and diverse. I’ve been amazed and challenged by the number and variety of services we provide and have already been lucky enough to chip in on some new campaigns.

So why does Berks Encore require a bit more agility and engagement as a professional? Immediacy. This word came to mind time and time again throughout the course of my first week: Immediacy of mission. Immediacy of impact. Immediacy of need. At Berks Encore I can immediately put faces to mission. And I can immediately see results.

Immediacy and impact are synonymous with Meals On Wheels. My last stop on my very first Meals on Wheels route brought a smile to my face and really solidified what lies ahead for me in my new role. A man sat on his porch waiting for his meal. “I thought you forgot about me,” he said as I approached. A quick reassurance sparked a friendly conversation and a smile. And with the handoff of that meal, I knew I had set in motion an exciting opportunity.

I’ll be here on the blog, on social media, in the Reading office and beyond to help spread the word about Berks Encore and to ensure the stories of our centers, our tireless volunteers, and our amazing seniors are told. I’m so excited to help move the vital work Berks Encore does forward.