More than fifty years ago, The Actors’ Chapel at St. Malachy’s Church on West 49th Street was visited by some of New York’s most famous theater faces. It was almost a home away from home for many Broadway stars. George M. Cohan, Rosalind Russell, Helen Hayes and Spencer Tracy could be found lighting votive candles on opening night. It was the Chapel where Douglas Fairbanks exchanged wedding vows with Joan Crawford, and Fred Allen and Pat O’Brien served as altar boys. When Rudolph Valentino died in 1926, thousands gathered at St. Malachy’s to pay a final tribute.
Today however, The Actors’ Chapel serves a different purpose. It is now home to Encore Community Services, a nonprofit dedicated to giving the many elderly men and women residing in this famous midtown theater district and neighboring Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton community an “encore” to life. Many of the elderly served by Encore are frail and live alone with little to no support networks of family and friends.
One of the first efforts of Encore was to develop the Encore Senior Center. With funding obtained under the Older Americans Act, the under-utilized Actors’ Chapel was totally renovated and transformed into what is today a vibrant, dynamic and fully handicapped-accessible community center. Since its genesis in 1977, Encore has grown into a multipurpose, nonsectarian agency providing a comprehensive array of programs and services. Each year Encore provides a total of 87,500 on-site congregate meals, delivers 201,000 meals to homebound elderly and 83,200 weekend meals to the homebound.
Encore is also sponsor of the Encore 49 Residence, an SRO-style supportive housing facility for homeless elderly with special needs. In a safe, clean and caring environment, residents are provided with their own small, yet private living units, and a range of mental health services. The Encore 49 Residence demonstrates that lives, once disrupted by poverty and homelessness, can be guided to the road of recovery.
Continuing its commitment to elderly people in need, Encore has built a second housing facility for very low-income elderly called the Encore West Residence. It is located on Tenth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets, and consists of 84 independent living units for seniors.
Since 1977, one thing that has remained constant is Encore’s strong commitment to its mission: to assist elderly people with their daily needs, in an effort to improve their quality of life and to help them live with dignity and independence in their own community. Encore will continue to play an important role in the lives of seniors in need, and remain “Broadway’s Longest Running Act of Loving Care.”