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Progress, Big and Small, Prevails at Elder Home

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Visitors are likely to find resident Ernest Boehling holding the front door open. "I feed the fishes, open doors and get papers," Boehling says, smiling.

The 30-year-old residential home is on the brink of a much-needed expansion. There is a long waiting list of low-income adults who would like to come live at St. Francis, which is at the intersection of Wise and Clopton streets in South Side, says executive director David Cran.

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, which established the nonprofit home in 1973, has committed $2.7 million to build a new wing to accommodate 43 additional residents. Still, more funds are needed, Cran says. "The larger we get, the more money we lose," Cran explains.

At a time when baby boomers are aging and giant corporations like Disney and Marriott are diving into the retirement community business, it's more important than ever, Cran says, for affordable alternatives like St. Francis Home to extend services and room for the poor. "Nobody is building places like this," he says, because such facilities aren't considered profitable.

Annual operating expenditures for St. Francis are $200,000; it costs about $28 a day for residents — who range in age from 45 to 103 — to live here, compared to three times as much at private for-profit elder homes. "Among the low-income, they don't make plans like those going to Westminster-Canterbury," Cran says.

It's why every contribution to St. Francis matters, he adds, even the anonymous one for $2 that arrives most months in the form of a 7-Eleven money order. A note is always attached that reads: "I wish I could do more."

"I thought I knew what charity was about in the arts," says Cran, a trumpet player and former director of the Annapolis Brass Quintet. "But here I've learned what charity is really about."

On Oct. 19 St. Francis Home hosts its annual fund-raiser, The Fire and Ice Ball, at the Tredegar Gun Foundry. Tickets are $100 per person and can be charged by phone by calling (804) 564-1143. — B.W.

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