Celebration and connection

During holidays, local assisted living and long-term care facilities focus on family, tradition

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The holiday season, more than any time of year, helps us collectively mark the passage of time.

It is a chance for reflection and celebration, an opportunity to bridge generational and geographical gaps while gathering with the ones we hold dear.

At local assisted living and long-term care facilities, ensuring residents have a full, meaningful holiday experience is an essential part of the mission for staffers.

“To make them happy, those moments … It’s a lot to do with traditions,” said Loraine DiLorenzo, activities director at Johnston’s Cherry Hill Manor. “They do it with 100 percent of their hearts, the people who work here.”

Julie Fox, senior director of business development for Cherry Hill Manor and Evergreen Nursing & Rehabilitation in East Providence, echoed DiLorenzo’s sentiment. She noted the special emphasis placed on Italian culture during Cherry Hill’s holiday events, given the heritage of many residents. Preparing and serving Italian cookie trays, for example, is a staple of the season.

“It just brings that local flavor and tradition into the long-term care setting,” she said.

Amber Wolf, activities director at All American Assisted Living in Warwick, said her facility includes traditional assisted living space as well as “Rose Lane,” which serves residents with memory-loss issues such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She mainly handles the traditional assisted living side of the operation, while Elisabeth Lamantia oversees the Rose Lane programming.

Like her counterparts at other assisted living communities, Wolf said family is a primary focus during the holidays.

“Obviously, family is very important to our residents, to our staff … Since we see the residents on a daily basis, they become our extended family,” she said.

DiLorenzo said Cherry Hill Manor strives to provide a range of holiday offerings for residents and families. The focus, she said, is on providing connections with the “sensory” aspects of the season – the aroma of holiday dishes, for example, or the joy of decorating.

Around Thanksgiving, there are craft and cooking programs, as well as a bake sale and raffles in which residents participate. On the holiday itself, highlights of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are shown on a large television – a chance to catch the iconic procession for those who might be busy getting ready for the day as it airs live.

Residents who remain at the facility have the option of gathering with family members in private spaces or joining other members of the community for a dinner in the main dining room.

“Those residents who don’t have family, they go in there and share [the day] together as a family,” she said.

For Christmas, DiLorenzo said residents get “really engaged” in Cherry Hill Manor’s annual Christmas Bazaar by making crafts and manning tables.

Residents also participate in all aspects of the facility’s preparations for the holiday, including hanging decorations and preparing the Italian cookie trays, which are served on Christmas Day. Programs include weekly demonstrations, such as making candy or other food items.

Cherry Hill Manor’s approach to Christmas dinner is the same as on Thanksgiving, with the option for a private family meal or a gathering with other residents.

Carolers will come to the facility to sing to residents, and there’s also another special treat in store – volunteer George Donahue making a visit as Santa Claus. He and his wife, Kat, will celebrate their 50th anniversary on Nov. 7.

“He’s grown his white beard already,” DiLorenzo said.

Other facilities bring their own unique approach to holiday programs and celebrations.

April Salisbury, medical administrative coordinator for Cranston’s Scandinavian Communities, said her organization welcomes families to take part in holiday meals and gatherings.

A nondenominational service is held the day before Thanksgiving, and on the holiday, there are door-decorating activities.

Scandinavian Communities holds its holiday party on Dec. 20, visit the Village Singers performing as part of the festivities. Family members are welcomed to take part in the celebration.

“I think it’s nice that all the families can come in … They can’t take their loved one home sometimes, or they live too far away,” Salisbury said.

On New Year’s, the community welcomes other entertainers – and marks the occasion with traditional hats, horns and champagne.

Throughout the season, residents take part in a range of activities and help contribute to the preparations. One resident, Salisbury noted, is known as “the wrapper” for his work wrapping packages.

“We get them involved in all the different activities,” she said.

Staff members, meanwhile, receive tokens of appreciation for their work to make the holidays special.

At All American, Wolf said families are invited to visit and have dinner with loved ones on Thanksgiving. Many residents also go out to visit family.

Wolf said All American arranges for a PowerPoint presentation on Thanksgiving that highlights the various people and things for which residents are thankful. Residents also write messages on foam leaves, which are hung around the facility.

“It’s very family and friend oriented,” she said.

Wolf said All American’s staff members are “always posting pictures” of activities on social media, and slideshows with pictures from the year are shown on TVs throughout the facility during the season. All American also has a special program through which residents can send video messages to family members who live far away.

“Saying ‘Happy Thanksgiving, I love you’ … They can share whatever they want with their loved ones,” she said.

Residents help decorate All American for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. A special holiday decorating party is held the day after Thanksgiving.

“We have so many decorations, we needed a second storage unit,” Wolf said with a laugh.

Residents also make ornaments for a holiday bazaar held in September. The event is open to residents, their families and other members of the community, and vendors are invited to sell their wares. Hot chocolate, apple cider and baked goods are available during the event, and some residents sell the items they have made as well.

On a more personal level, families of residents are invited in during the holidays for a special day of decorating trees while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and listening to holiday music – “just like they did at home,” Wolf said.

There are other special events around the holidays as well, such as a visit from an Elvis impersonator and participating in food drives to benefit local shelters and food banks.

“We care about others as well … That’s what I love about our community,” she said.

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