Volunteers deliver gifts, camaraderie to seniors

By Peter Elacqua

JACKSON – The Adopt A Senior organization of Jackson brought cheer to hundreds of residents of nursing homes in Jackson and New York City during the recent holiday season.

The 2-year-old Adopt A Senior organization is an extension of the Adopt A Senior Holiday Program that has been in place for more than a decade at the Riverside Premier Rehabilitation & Healing Center (formerly Kateri Center) in Manhattan.

Representatives of the Adopt A Senior organization visited the Bartley Healthcare nursing, rehabilitation and assisted living facility in Jackson on Dec. 14 and the Riverside on Dec. 15, 16, 17 and 21.

Adopt A Senior volunteers visit Bartley Healthcare and the Riverside each month to deliver birthday gifts to residents. Seasonal gifts are provided to the residents in the spring and fall.

The Adopt A Senior organization was started by Annye Cohen, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Bill Cowen, of Jackson.

Cohen started the group in honor of her grandfather, Izzy Cohen, who taught her the importance of giving back and helping others.

Cohen began volunteering at the Kateri Center on Riverside Drive in Manhattan more than a decade ago and learned that many residents had no family members, no visitors and no one with whom they could share holidays and birthdays. She was determined to help the senior citizens.

Adopt A Senior’s board includes Cohen, president; Cowen, treasurer; Sharyn Cohen, vice president; Bob Tretter,  vice president; Meagan Conway, communication director; and Jill O’Toole, secretary and director.

Conway’s grandmother is a resident of Bartley Healthcare and that is how the group eventually made its local connection in Jackson.

According to Cohen, the organization’s volunteers range in age from 13 to 70. She said more than 800 seniors were adopted during the 2015 holiday season, which was twice as many seniors as 2014.

Cohen said gifts were hand-delivered at both nursing facilities.

“We go into the homes expecting to make the seniors happy and we walk out feeling just as wonderful as they do,” Cohen said. “Their expressions and thanks make this all worthwhile. It was an amazing time for our board members and volunteers. We all have the same goal of ensuring that seniors are never forgotten.”

Cohen said the visits to Bartley Healthcare began with a birthday party patrol.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Annye and the Adopt A Senior group since April 2014,” Bartley Healthcare Activity Director Cheryl Taylor said. “When the Adopt A Senior group comes through the doors with their hats, kazoos, balloons and gifts each month, the residents’ faces just light up. They are getting to know the group very well and will greet them in the hallways.

“The Adopt A Senior group is getting to know the residents and always greets everyone they meet with a smile and a hello.  They are extremely personable. The residents are still talking about their gifts and their faces light up when the subject is mentioned. The Adopt A Senior group is committed to making sure no resident is left out and that each resident is very special,” Taylor said.

“Adopt A Senior is a wonderful program because it makes us feel loved and not forgotten during the holidays,” said Eileen Kelley, a resident of the Riverside. “Spending time with the volunteers makes the gift-giving day extra special as we have come to feel that the volunteers are our extended family members. It is something we all look forward to each year.”

Marisa Marino, whose father, Frank Mesto, resides at Bartley Healthcare, is an Adopt A Senior volunteer. Marino got involved after she saw the group on its birthday patrol at the nursing home.

“I could not be happier with this program. To see people willing to go in and socialize with dementia patients brought tears to my eyes,” Marino said. “It has helped not only other families, but it helped me cope with my father being in a nursing home for the first Christmas.”

Marino distributed gifts to Bartley Healthcare residents with assistance from her brother, Frank, mother, Dee, and daughters, Avamarie, Julianna and Victoria.

“Other families should get more involved, it made our Christmas a lot easier to bear knowing there are people like (the Adopt A Senior group),” Marino said.

Marino is a teacher at the Laura Donovan School in Freehold Township. The school’s Community Service Committee hosted an event which saw students writing cards to every resident at Bartley Healthcare.

Cohen said Adopt A Senior received the Volunteer Team of the Year award from the Health Care Association of New Jersey after being nominated for the honor by Bartley Healthcare administrators. Adopt A Senior is now eligible for the national award, which will be presented in October.