The grand ole’ dame that is the Casa Santa Cruz, a senior-friendly apartment development located in St. Petersburg, celebrated its 20th birthday on July 29th! This venerable apartment complex consisting of 76 spacious, one bedroom apartments, was completed in 1995 in what was then a rural area with little commercial enterprise. It was the result of the vision of a local parish priest, the late Rev. Jerome Diffley, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church, who foresaw the need for affordable living complexes for seniors even back then.
The birthday party was attended by nearly 40 people, including staff and residents. The invocation was provided by Mr. Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities. Everyone enjoyed drinks and of course delicious birthday cake!
The event was spearheaded by Ms. Nanci Huffer, the Casa Santa Cruz housing manager, in consort with Sister Pam Nolan, the Director of Catholic Charities’ Elderly Housing. Nanci, new to Catholic Charities, said she joined the non-profit agency because “I like the mission.” Apparently a few residents and at least one staff member feel similarly.
Mr. Brian Fort, the night front desk clerk/security guard/maintenance man has been at the apartments since their inception. How did he happen to join Casa Santa Cruz? Before he can answer, Brian has to attend to the alarm system – the elaborate safety system installed in each apartment so residents encountering emergencies can alert the office. After ensuring it was an accidental alert, Brian states that he was working as a bank security guard making $3.67 an hour and figured he could make more money in a job that offered a change of pace and wasn’t as dangerous! Twenty years later, Brian states he’s not looking to go anywhere and the only looking forward he’s doing is to retiring from Casa Santa Cruz sometime later this decade.
Several residents have also been at the apartments since they opened. One, Mrs. Joan Ferrara, a proud Brooklyn native who moved into the apartments when she and her husband retired and relocated to St. Petersburg to be closer to her grandchildren. She had learned about Casa from Fr. Diffley during vacations to the sunshine state. Her memories are fond as she reminisces about the community room get-togethers, consisting of playing cards, chit chatting, having parties and enjoying potluck meals. As many of her friends have either moved or passed away, including her beloved husband, Joan states “change is difficult” and her hope for the future is that Casa will “stay the way it is.” Having spent “a quarter of my life” at Casa Santa Cruz, it apparently remains the one constant in her life. In fact, Joan’s dedication to Casa Santa Cruz is summed up by her final exclamation before departing: “I live at the Casa Santa Cruz and that’s where I’m going to die.” Barbara Surdyk, has ONLY lived at Casa for 17 years. A transplant from Utica, NY, Barbara was sold on the location: “I liked the area, close to the church; so convenient.” Barb has been a volunteer assistant, helping to man the front desk for many of those years, saying: “I always thought it’s such a good way to get to know the people you’re living with.” Barb and her late husband also retired here, drawn by the allure of their 5 children. Her passion for Casa Santa Cruz is refreshing. Says, Barb: “I’ve had a lot of good years here. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!’ Her hope for the future? “I don’t want it to change. I think we’re in a good, safe place.”
Even though she is new to Casa Santa Cruz, it is apparent these two long-time residents warmed quickly to their new housing manager, as she warmly watched them excitedly share their views. In reality, Nanci’s observations echoed those of these two long-time residents: “This program is so wonderful. It’s perfect for seniors in today’s economy.” Nanci was well versed about Catholic Charities prior to joining the non-profit agency as the Casa Santa Cruz housing manager through her prior working relationship and friendship with current ‘boss’, Sister Pam. Being here has only reinforced those views as Nancy is insistent about the mission and merit of Casa Santa Cruz when she closed our post-party session: “It’s needed. Where else can you live for under $300 that’s safe and clean and affordable.” I think Nanci has a point: her two long-time residents obviously agree!
Viva Casa Santa Cruz! Here’s looking forward to the next highly successful 20 years!