|Rabbi Zelick Block and friends on Grandfriends Day at the JCC.|
It’s a story we hear more and more these days.
Someone’s father, or grandmother, or friend, who once was so active, is no longer able to participate in the activities that previously sustained them.
Whether they have slipped into dementia or simply cannot keep up physically, their lives now must change.
Fortunately, said Susan Marenoff of Tenafly, a sponsor of Lavish Lunches, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades is tackling this problem, “providing a place for seniors to go to get out of their homes and be social with each other.”
Ms. Marenoff, who has supported the culinary fundraising event for several years, said she finds the event – which benefits the JCC’s Senior Adult Services Department – “probably one of the most fulfilling days of the entire year.”
“I have a soft spot for the elderly,” she said, and the JCC “brings seniors into a vibrant environment,” furthering contacts between the center’s oldest and youngest members and stimulating their minds.
“To be part of it, to play a role, makes such a difference for so many of us who see what the JCC does every day. We’re so lucky in this community to have this agency.”
Lavish Lunches, scheduled for March 11, begins with a light breakfast at the home of JCC supporters Lindsay and Josh Epstein and features a guest speaker. This year, it’s culinary expert and author Franklin Becker, a proponent of healthy eating.
After his presentation, participants may choose among a variety of lunches, served in local homes and venues, each with a theme, speaker, or activity.
The day will include the screening of a video that shows not only how the JCC serves its senior population but how the families of those seniors value the center’s work.
“I think you guys are angels on earth,” says the on-screen daughter of one senior who – before a heart attack from which she never fully recovered – loved to dance. The JCC, she said, “has a variety of programs that keep my mother focused, active, and smiling. Every day she dances, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
“I have peace of mind knowing that my mother is in a warm, welcoming, safe place.
“Centers such as this, that can organize and provide for people in need, are essential. It’s like a village. You have to take care of the people in your village.”
Another grateful family member – whose 105-year-old father “sailed to the U.S. in 1912 from Italy at the same time the Titanic sailed from Ireland” – said that when his mother died 14 years ago and his father, who is now 98 and still rides his bicycle, agreed to move in with him, he saw that his once-active father was becoming increasingly lethargic.
After exploring a variety of local programs, he ultimately chose the Kaplan Adult Reach Center at the JCC. Now, he said, his father is thriving, “enjoying music, dancing, singing, exercising, playing games, socializing with his peers, and interacting with all the children who attend the JCC Nursery and Day Care Program.” The youngsters visit the seniors to celebrate holidays or share such activities as planting gardens.
Judith Davidsohn Nahary, director of the JCC’s Senior Adult Services Department, said her programs are targeted to a variety of groups.
The Adult Day Care program, for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, runs four times a week and provides “transportation, breakfast, lunch, exercise, clubs, drama, and art therapy, geared toward this population,” she said.
“We’re Montessori-inspired. Everything we do is to help all our participants reach their highest level of engagement.” In addition, the center is a main source of nutrition for the participants.
After ascertaining members’ previous interests, “we incorporate that into our program to keep them as engaged as possible,” Ms. Nahary said, adding that of all the therapies employed there, “youth therapy” – bringing children to visit the seniors – is the most effective. “It puts smiles on their faces and brings back memories. It reminds them of happy times. They respond well.”
The Senior Activities Center, geared toward people 75 and older, meets five days a week and serves “those who still are part of our community but because of age have a more difficult time participating in things,” Ms. Nahary said. Without the program, they would be homebound.
The REAP program, for retired executives and professionals, “brings in its own speakers, arranges its own entertainment, and operates somewhat independently of the JCC,” she added. “They want that independence and we support them. They make their own decisions.”
The senior adult department also offers a caregiver initiative, Ms. Nahary said, running monthly support groups as well as a training program. “Over four sessions we teach the basics of elder care through the medical, financial, and legal aspects of the issue.” For example, she said, attendees are told which medical issues are “red flags” for further action.
The major benefit of these programs, said Nahary, is that “seniors are aging in place.”
She pointed out that there are a large number of seniors in Bergen County, and that while it is often difficult for working children to care for parents who are homebound, it is also “incredibly expensive to have fulltime care. It takes a toll on caregivers.”
She said she believes in the truth of “use it or lose it,” and so she encourages seniors to stay as active and engaged as possible to keep their faculties and memory intact. In addition, she said, her programs offer exercise and entertainment.
By the time members leave, she said, “They’ve had a full day.”
“We work with everyone,” she added. “We’ve never turned anyone away. To the best of our ability, we make our services available to anyone who needs it.”
Ms. Nahary said one of the Lavish Lunches is held at the JCC for senior center members. Volunteers serve the seniors and sit with them to talk.
“The seniors love when people come to visit and spend time with them,” she said. “It’s remarkable to see. Some of them get all dolled up.”
Still, according to Ms. Marenoff, who not only volunteers at the JCC but also is the president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, the first woman to hold that position, volunteers get as much as they give “It hits home, having this moment where you can really brighten a person’s day in so short a time,” she said. “It’s rewarding to be part of and right in our front yard. Why not be a part of it?”
Ms. Marenoff said that in her professional capacity she “works to open programming to all demographics,” and she appreciates programs that are structured similarly. “It’s programming that we strive to make accessible to all,” she said, applying the description both to her own job and to the work of the JCC.
“Right in our own community, we have a facility that helps seniors thrive,” she said. “To be able to support varied generations is so important, so wonderful. The smallest thing we do impacts them greatly. It makes them feel good and, selfishly, it makes me feel good too.”
For more information about Lavish Lunches, call Sharon Potolsky at 201.408.1405 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.