By Arthur Lightbourn
She calls them “wrap-around” services.
That’s how Rosalie Gerevas, the newly elected chair of the 15-member board of the Senior Community Centers of San Diego, describes the work of the nonprofit organization that for 41 years has been helping to make life better for low-income seniors.
“Wrap-around” because the organization is now able to embrace seniors as a concerned family member would due in large part to a generous $4 million donation that was instrumental in building a new, state-of-the-art flagship wellness center last year in downtown San Diego and launching an innovative program that is becoming a model for the rest of the country.
As a network of centers, the organization provides essentials that have the greatest impact on a senior’s overall well-being: meals, access to health care and social services, transitional housing, and all sorts of enrichment classes from cooking and crafts to fitness and “hands-on” computer training so seniors can easily access their medical histories and obtain health benefits information.
And, perhaps most importantly, it provides a place for seniors to gather, talk to each other, develop friendships and lead healthy, satisfying and independent lives, despite the hardships they are facing.
“We’re one of the few senior organizations in the country that provides these ‘wrap-around’ services,” Gerevas said.
We interviewed the newly-elected chair in her home in Rancho Santa Fe where she lives with her husband, Ron, a retired executive search CEO who currently is an adjunct professor at Cal State San Marcos and an amateur Sangiovese wine grower. They have two grown children and will soon be celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary.
Gerevas joined the Senior Community Centers’ board in 2006 after an extensive career in business and after having served four years as president of the San Diego affiliate of Susan G. Koman for the Cure.
She was born Rosalie Morrongiello in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, who had emigrated from Italy, worked in the commissary of Pan American Airways most of his adult life. She was the first in her family to go to college.
After earning her B.S. in business administration from Long Island University, New York, she worked as a personnel assistant at J. Walter Thompson, which at the time was the largest advertising agency in the world and where she met her future husband, California-born Ron Gerevas.
The couple married in 1966 and moved to California when Ron was transferred as an account executive to JWT’s Los Angeles office, then on to Washington, D.C. where he served, under President Gerald Ford, as director of ACTION, the mega-agency responsible for all federal volunteer programs, including the Peace Corps. The couple returned to California in 1977.
Ron went into the executive search industry and later served for a time as president and COO of the Del Mar-based weight management company, Jenny Craig, Inc.
Rosalie raised their two children while serving as an instructor and area manager of the Jacki Sorensen’s Aerobic Dancing studios and later as a wellness program educator for Wellness at Work, organizing corporate wellness programs in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.
“Being 3,000 miles away from my family,” she recalled, “I was making many trips back, as my parents started to age.
“Were they destitute and needed meals? No,” she said. “But they needed assistance. They needed help. They needed people who cared about them. I was there for them as were some of my cousins who lived close by.”
She recognizes that many seniors are not so fortunate as to have families who can help.
“For some people, as they go through the aging process, there’s nobody there for them. They’re away from their families. They have no support. They need that. They need the social interaction. They need to be part of life. And, I thought, if I can help, I will.”
Every day, she counts her blessings, she said. “I know how lucky I am because I know where I come from.”
The average monthly income of seniors receiving services from Senior Community Centers is just over $800 a month, less than half of what is needed to meet their basic needs.
Last month alone, the organization served 38,737 hot meals to seniors at its modern flagship facility, the Gary and Mary West Wellness Center, at 4th and Beech downtown, at congregant meal sites in South Bay, East County and North County, and via the organization’s home delivery service for home-bound seniors.
The centers expect to serve 550,000 meals this year.
For individual meals, seniors “pay-what-they-can,” ranging from 12 cents to $2.50, Gerevas said.
A $4 million gift from the Gary and Mary West Foundation helped build the new downtown wellness center in 2010 and launch the centers’ revitalized program. West, who lives part-time in Rancho Santa Fe, said at the time of his donation, “Our vision is to transform the aging process into something positive and life-fulfilling.”
Many of the seniors who come into the center for meals are regulars, Gerevas said. “They have ‘their’ tables. They have their friends that they sit with. It’s delightful. And they know when somebody’s missing.
“For some, this is their human interaction for the day, which is why the services are so wonderful. They stay for an afternoon class or they come early and take a class.”
Among the most popular classes offered are cooking classes.
To supplement the breakfasts and lunches available at the downtown center seven days a week and at the congregant centers five days a week, some seniors also prepare meals at home, she said. “And at the classes they get economical shopping tips and recipes.”
The centers’ funding comes from city, state and federal sources, and from private donations.
Facing the possibility of cuts in government funding, Gerevas is hoping that legislators will have the foresight to realize that good nutrition is an absolute necessity for seniors.
“If you can feed that senior, you’re going to keep that health level up. If you get that senior into the center and you see there’s a problem, you can treat that problem before it becomes even more of an issue. Ultimately, when it’s all balanced out, you’re actually saving money for the government.”
Yet, she concedes, in future, “more and more will have to come from the private sector. And we’re going to have to do more fundraising.”
For more information on Senior Community Centers, visit
, or call 619-235-6572.
Name: Rosalie Gerevas (pronounced: “Ger-vas”)
Gerevas, a former aerobic dance instructor and corporate wellness educator, was recently elected board chair of the Senior Community Centers of San Diego, a network of centers proving hot meals, transitional housing, medical and social assistance, enrichment classes and socialization opportunities for low-income seniors.
Rancho Santa Fe for 18 years
Brooklyn, New York
B.S., business administration, Long Island University, New York, 1965; B.S., health sciences/health education, Cal State Northridge, 1988.
Married going on 45 years to Ron Gerevas, former executive search CEO and current adjunct professor at Cal State San Marcos. They have two grown children: daughter Michelle, an internal communications director at Qualcomm, and son, Stephen, a telecommunications executive.
Cooking and baking “for company,” loves all things Italian, and is currently enrolled in Italian language classes.
“Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” by Daniel Okrent; and “Into the Beautiful North,” a novel by Luis Alberto Urrea.
St. Helena in the wine-growing Napa Valley; and the Umbria and Tuscany regions of Italy
“Try to be the best person you can and leave this world a little better place.”