– Kenny's Story

Kenny’s Story

Ronald Reagan is president. Steve Reed has just been elected to his first of seven terms as mayor of Harrisburg. Walter Cronkite signs off CBS News for the last time and Dolly Parton is belting out “9 to 5.” Welcome to 1981, the year Kenny Sheaffer started to call the East Shore YMCA “home” and its staff and members “family.” Now, 33 years later, it’s the end of an era, as Kenny relocates to a new home, while retaining his Y family.

If you are a member of the East Shore Y, odds are you have had a conversation about cinema with our iconic resident, who freely shares his encyclopedic knowledge of classic film.

1981 was a tough year for Kenny. He took up residence at the Y after his mom, with whom he lived, passed away. He started a new job as overnight custodian with the Mechanicsburg School District. He began to re-build his life one friendship at a time. If, as the saying goes, “the best vitamin for making friends is B1,” Kenny is a virtual GNC of goodwill. He has befriended fellow residents, members, employees, kids in childcare, visitors, indeed almost anyone who will chat with him, especially about movies.

Kenny proudly declares, “The Y is my family.” He mentions Membership Coordinator Ramona Stenger and former housekeeper Dottie Hunt as his longest friends at the Y. He has watched Ramona’s children grow up and become parents themselves. Dottie retired a few years ago.

Kenny cites the addition of the Wellness Center as the most dramatic change during his time here, but he most enjoys the sunny, airy feel of the atrium.

While Kenny has never been one to complain, some of his friends have worried that the Y might not be able to best meet Kenny’s needs as he approaches 80 years old, particularly after suffering a broken hip after a run in with an automobile. Five flights of stairs would challenge many a younger man. In collaboration with Alder Health Care, Resident Director Tom Gifford made arrangements for Kenny to relocate to B’nai Brith Apartments, on Chestnut Street in Harrisburg.

Kenny cheerfully agreed to the move, though not entirely without trepidation. After all, his support network for nearly half his life was centered on the Y. If Kenny loves anything as much as he loves movies, it is walking. He walks three miles almost every day, so it will be easy for him to continue to visit his Y “family” and friends.

Kenny’s new apartment is accessible by elevator. After over 30 years of sharing a bathroom with 26 other men, he especially appreciates his private bathroom. His apartment overlooks the quaint gardens maintained at B’nai Brith. During his visit he encountered some former residents and a current member of the Y, so the relocation will be less stressful than it might have been.

The Y was able to step in at a crucial point in Kenny’s life, and has for 33 years been home and family. It’s been an emotional time at the East Shore Y, with lots of hugs (not Kenny’s favorite) and even a few tears. One of Kenny’s close Y friends, who is assisting with the transition, said “It’s like sending your kid to college. You know it has to be done. You know it’s the best thing for Kenny. But you can’t imagine him not being there every day.”

Kenny will have lots of support in his new home. A full-time social worker is on duty to assist Kenny with the workings of the bureaucracy. Lunch is served Monday through Friday. And of course he will have Turner Classic Movies on cable. He’s even investigating a Netflix subscription.

In 1981, when Kenny first moved to the Y, Kate Hepburn and Henry Fonda co-stared in On Golden Pond. It’s a story about letting go and moving on, so it’s a fitting bookend to Kenny’s time at the Y. I think I’ll rent On Golden Pond tonight.

Kenny is one of 86 men who, at any point in time, call the East Shore YMCA “home.” Many are short-term residents, but a few have been here ten years or longer. The East Shore houses 16 formerly homeless vets as part of collaboration with the Veterans Administration and the YWCA.

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