Zelda Kapner: Iona has your back

Zelda Kapner, 85, never found her soul mate, but she did find Iona. As a regular participant in Iona’s Active Wellness Program at St. Alban’s, she has made friends; gets a daily dose of exercise, current events or culture; and enjoys a midday meal.

She’s not alone. Each weekday, 35 or more men and women gather for conversation, an activity, and a meal. Her lunch table is a mix of new and returning participants. There’s Sarah, who’s been coming for five months. Recently “retired,” she works two days a week for a former ambassador. Alec is a retired psychotherapist. And Sherry, who has been coming for nine years, is an artist. “I belong to a gym,” she says, “but—in contrast to Iona’s program—I find it lonely going there because I don’t know anyone. Iona is an entirely different experience.”

Zelda agrees. A native of New York, she came to the District in 1973 to work at a national women’s organization. She found a rent-controlled apartment in Foggy Bottom, where she’s been ever since. “I know a good thing when I see it,” Zelda says.

She could just as easily be referring to Iona.

When Zelda retired at age 67, she recalls the words of a dear friend: “Make sure you have something to do every day.”

At Iona’s Active Wellness Program, “you meet the most interesting people who have the most interesting lives,” says Zelda. “Iona broadens your universe.” Beyond the participants are the many high school students who volunteer their time, young people who “give you faith in the future,” says Zelda.

While Iona enlivens Zelda’s social life, “it also has my back,” she says. Zelda has instructed her niece—who is executor of her will—that the first call she should make in the event of a crisis is to Iona. “I had a friend living in a group house where the landlady was taking advantage of her,” recalls Zelda. “I referred her to an Iona social worker who helped her find new housing. Iona saved her life.”

Of her own experience, Zelda says: “If I wake up and think, ‘another boring breakfast,’ all I have to do is head to Iona, which makes me smile.” Zelda and other participants credit program manager Courtney Tolbert, who, in Zelda’s words, is not only a creative and effective leader “but has a big heart.”

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