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Superheros Sister Elizabeth Hasselt and Sister Lillian McNamara

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Encore Community Services first opened their doors in Times Square in 1977, recognizing the lack of quality care-giving services for senior citizens in need in New York City. Over the years, Encore has helped thousands of homeless seniors live independent, dignified lives, and have since come to be known as “Broadway’s Longest Running Act of Loving Care.”

Although forming Encore took the help of many, the organization would never be where it is today without their primary co-founders and fearless crusaders: Sister Lillian McNamara, Encore’s energetic and hard-working Director of Operations and recently-retired Sister Elizabeth Hasselt, who served as Encore’s vibrant and resilient Executive Director for 41 remarkable years.

These powerful women helped transform Encore from a modest church-based program into a dynamic and multipurpose organization dedicated to supporting the health and well-being of senior citizens in New York City. Defeat the Streets’ team member, Fabricio Bedoya, sat down with Sister Elizabeth and Sister Lillian to learn more about how they helped accomplish this remarkable feat.

“When we started, we only had the Senior Center,” explains Sister Lillian. “We were initially given a grant for 35 meals [to home-bound elderly] and 100 meals for elderly on-site. Within 3 – 4 months of opening, we were already serving 60 meals. The Senior Center then grew from 60 to 100 to 400+ meals per day. Now we have four vans and thousands of meals that go out to homeless seniors in need.”

Both Sisters have been instrumental in the growth and development of every aspect of Encore, so named because encore conjures the idea of ‘another chance,’ which is exactly what they strive to provide for seniors. Over the years, the Sisters have successfully developed various outreach initiatives, such as notably opening four separate Encore locations, and have secured grant funding for much-needed resources – such as raising money to purchase 4 vans needed to deliver meals. Through their guidance, Encore now serves more than 201,000 meals to homebound elderly each year, along with 87,500 on-site meals and 83,200 weekend meals annually.

“When I invite [potential donors] to Encore, they are always amazed by the work we do,” says Sister Elizabeth. “I have never had someone come in and say that they don’t want to contribute in some way.”

In addition to keeping the Senior Center running, Sister Elizabeth was also instrumental in opening their three additional locations. “We worked with the city and the Mayor at the time to launch those locations,” explains Sister Elizabeth. “It took many years and a lot of patience for that to happen.”

The Sisters explained that Encore has a strong partnership with City Meals on Wheels, an organization devoted to bringing meals to those who are unable to visit Encore’s locations. “We are very grateful for this partnership,” says Sister Lillian, “We all have to work together – no organization can do this on their own.”

Looking to the future, both Sisters stressed the importance of much-needed funding for Encore. “We are rapidly expanding, and now service homeless seniors from 14th Street west of Eighth Avenue all the way up to 110th Street,” explains Sister Lillian. “We really need additional space. We can’t keep operating in a box and not think it’s going to break at the seams at some point.”

From all of us here at Defeat the Streets, we extend our sincerest gratitude to Sister Elizabeth and Sister Lillian for the incredible work they have accomplished for Encore Community Services. Their hard work, commitment, and resilience is incredibly admirable and offers such an inspiration to us and others. We would also like to send sincere congratulations and warm wishes to Sister Elizabeth on her retirement – we are so appreciative of your 41 years of selfless service!

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