A five-member panel, which included a rabbi, a Dominican sister and a Muslim chaplain, said that faith-based organizations and social service agencies must join forces to effect systemic change and offer help to the swelling numbers of urban women living in poverty during a symposium at Fordham University on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Drawing on both professional and personal experiences, the all-female panelists discussed the plight of elderly indigent women in cities like New York as part of  “Keeping the Faith,” a symposium sponsored by the Fordham Graduate School of Social Service’s Bertram M. Beck Institute on Religion and Poverty. The event was held in the McNally Amphitheatre at the Lincoln Center campus.

“There are so many elderly women who are isolated . . ., who have no family support, not even one responsible person in their lives,” said Ursula Joyce, O.P., executive director of Dominican Sisters of Sparkill Senior Housing Ministry. “Churches are really good at prayer, but someone needs to be there when an elderly woman is discharged from the hospital. Who takes them home? Who helps explain their medication, or cleans out their refrigerator?”

Sanaa Nadim, a Muslim chaplain for the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and a child of older parents, said that women, who outlive men by an average of seven years, are twice as likely to live in poverty by age 85 than are men the same age. The life expectancy of women, she said, has climbed from 50 years in 1902 to 80 years in 2002 and social services have not adjusted to handle the myriad issues facing this “hidden” demographic. She cited problems of physical and mental abuse by spouses, children and home care aids, and Social Security payments that are inadequate for even the most basic of necessities.

“The Baby Boomers have failed in their care giving of their parents,” she said. “Faith- based institutions should be able to connect on a community level, to help [these women]find the services out there.”

Other panelists included Rabbi Judith Edelstein, D.Min., director of the Religious Life Department at Jewish Home and Hospital Lifecare System; Rev. Lisa Hill, director of quality care, West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing; and Betty Letzig, deaconess, United Methodist Church and member of the United Nations Non-governmental Organization Committee on Aging. Renee Solomon, D.S.W., a retired associate professor at the Columbia School of Social Work, served as moderator. The symposium was co-sponsored by the Office of University Mission and Ministry.


Janet Sassi is editor/associate director of internal communications. She can be reached at (212) 636-7577 or [email protected]