Vincentian Home residents get a taste of multicultural fare

| Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Vincentian Home resident Marjorie Graham had heard of turmeric and saffron, but she never had smelled the spices, often used in Persian cuisine.

But on Jan. 20, AmeriCorps volunteer Ariel Majidi shared her Persian heritage with residents as part of a multicultural fair on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the senior-care community in McCandless.

Majidi, 22, of Pittsburgh's Shadyside neighborhood, explained that rosewater often is used in ice cream and that cinnamon is put in rice in Iran, which surprised Graham.

“Cinnamon? I didn't know that,” she said.

More than 100 volunteers were on site at Vincentian Home during the course of the day with international programs that included music performances, board games from around the world, karaoke, lectures on cultural history and discussion groups.

“It was a wonderful day,” said Denise Calkins, Encore Services manager at Vincentian Home.

For the evening session, resident Nancy DiCenzo sang Italian songs, and “residents were dancing in their chairs” when an African dance troupe performed, Calkins said.

She said the Vincentian Home staff works with residents to plan programming based on their interests.

Ethnic food samples and activities were scheduled throughout the building all day, and staff members wore name tags with their nationalities or heritages.

Vincentian Home resident Renee Petty, 73, spent her morning chatting with a few college students from the University of Pittsburgh, including one from Algeria and one from Egypt.

“We were having a fabulous time. The gals and I talked about our ethnic backgrounds and the foods we still make,” Petty said.

“It's so interesting to find about their backgrounds and plans for the future.”

Jennifer Creamer, a University of Pittsburgh anthropologist who specializes in Japanese culture, set up a table with origami demonstrations and had kimonos residents could try on.

“I wanted to volunteer on Martin Luther King Day,” said Creamer, 50, of Franklin Park. “I lived in Japan for five years and loved it.”

Creamer also brought her daughters Zoe, 16, and Daphne, 12, who both are students in the North Allegheny School District to help with the origami table.

Creamer, associate director of the University Center for International Studies at Pitt, and her daughters saw an ad calling for volunteers through Pittsburgh Cares.

Other volunteers participated through the University of Pittsburgh, the residence-life staff of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, AmeriCorps, the Urban League of Pittsburgh and Holy Family Institute International.

“A lot of people look at Martin Luther King Day as a day off. We look at it as a day of service,” said Anthony Kane, 24, of The Bluff in Pittsburgh.

Kane, an assistant resident director at Duquesne, came with a group of 30 volunteers from the Duquesne Towers dormitory.

Joyce Lewis-Andrews, director of volunteer services for the Vincentian Collaborative System, said the event was a way to break up an otherwise slow month.

“After the holidays, January has a tendency to be a letdown,” said Lewis-Andrews, of Ben Avon Heights. “We're bringing the world to (residents) today.”

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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