Willie from Jersey City always has something to say as he sits out in front of his house, although on this day in mid-December, he is quieter than usual, looking at the parade of tiny preschoolers coming from their classes at Friendship Baptist School into Bayonne’s Sunflower on Broadway.
They came to sing Christmas carols for the senior citizens and others from around Hudson County who use Sunflower’s services throughout the year.
“They’re practicing for their Christmas concert at the church,” said Connie Maksel, head preschool teacher, who led the students into a large room filled with several dozen people, old and not old. Other people like Willie – who, on most days at home, listens to his radio while calling out friendly greetings to his neighbors – all seemed moved by the special attention these tiny tots were giving them.
Some munched on cookies, while other greeted the kids with smiles and looks of nostalgia as the songs filled the room.
Four-year-old Christian said his favorite carol was “Jingle Bells,” while his classmate Dason said, “I like ‘Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly.’”
“We wanted to come in sing a couple of songs for them here,” said Maksel.
The 18 kids and their teachers came with gifts to be raffled off to the residents of Sunflower, each bag featuring a design drawn on it by one of the kids. Each containing various toiletries that the residents might be able to use.
“This means so much to the people here,” said Diane Matdzin, an assistant activities aide. “It brightens up the day and it is heartfelt.
Latchmee Caramanno, activities coordinator, said school kids coming to the center help motivate the people there and provide a lot of joy for the clients.
Administrator Jamie Ryan said kids from other schools will also be visiting the center over the next week.
“We wanted to come in sing a couple of songs for them here.” – Connie Maksel
Sunflower Center has been open in Bayonne since 2004 and was inspired by Lenny Simkin when he had to deal with the awesome task of handling his own parents’ problems related to aging and still keep up with the tasks associated with making a living.
Simkin figured that if he struggled to help his parents, finding things to do to keep up their spirits and provide them with a safe place while he wasn’t around.
The center is designed to help senior citizens who might need a little help in maintaining their independence. It provides the supervision that they may not be able to get at home with people needing to go out to work during the day.
The center provides free transportation, nursing services, group activities, social services, snacks, and a hot lunch. In conjunction with needs of patrons, the center can arrange for a variety of therapy, physical, speech and occupational on site.
These kinds of centers are an alternative to leaving elderly people at home alone or even in the care of home aids, and a means of avoiding the other alterative of sending seniors prematurely into nursing homes. Adult daycare centers allow people to meet, make friends and get involved socially, rather than spending most of their time at home watching television or sleeping.
The facility has a professional staff designed to help with senior needs, allowing for them to maintain their medicines or therapy or to spot potential problems before things become critical.