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Senior-care centers look to brighten holiday spirits

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
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Concordia at Ridgewood Place resident Tillie Andrews waves as she sits behind a stack of gifts.
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Aileen and Dr. Robert Zollweg, residents of The Village at St. Barnabas, pose for a photo at a recent holiday party.
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Above, Concordia Facility Director Carol Strejcek poses with her husband, Joe, dressed as Santa Claus.
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Concordia resident Doris Weigold and staff member Lori Choltko pose for a photo during the facility's holiday party.
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Concordia residents Thelma Webeck, Virginia Jenny, and Helen Thomas enjoy the annual holiday party.

Staff at Seneca Place in Penn Hills want their residents to experience the joy of the holidays as much as anyone else.

But for people living in senior-care facilities or senior citizens living alone, the holidays can be a lonely time.

“It can be a rough time for a lot of folks because they may be thinking about loved ones or someone they've lost,” said Deanne Thomas, activity coordinator at Seneca Place, a senior-care facility that is part of UPMC's Senior Communities.

With that in mind, Thomas has a holiday-themed activity planned for every day between Dec. 1 and Christmas Eve.

Other senior-living communities across the region also are filling their calendars with imaginative events, to help residents make the holidays special.

Seneca Place staff on Dec. 2, for example, arranged for a horse and carriage to give residents a ride throughout the Saltsburg Road campus, which was aglow with light displays.

A group took a recent trip to see holiday decorations at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.

Staff brought a holiday entertainer to the facility last week, and Santa will visit all the Seneca campus buildings.

“We invite everyone's grandkids to come and visit Santa. That way, residents will get a chance to see their grandchildren on Santa's lap,” Thomas said.

A smorgasbord of holiday happenings also is scheduled at another UPMC Senior Community, Beatty Pointe Village in Monroeville, where activities coordinator Kristen Halleran plans trips, special events and more.

“We have things going on to incorporate both Christmas and Hanukkah,” Halleran said.

“We (had) a Christmas candlelight dinner Dec. 14, we go on several trips to see holiday light displays, and we'll have a holiday show-and-tell, where residents will bring a decoration or gift that's very meaningful to them.”

The staff hosts a holiday ladies' tea party and a holiday party with food, music and entertainment.

This year, there also will be a trip to another senior community, Cumberland Woods Village in McCandless, to hear a lecture on holiday stories and traditions.

In the North Hills, senior-care provider St. Barnabas Health System not only organizes a month of holiday activities, an affiliate also spearheads the regional Presents for Patients campaign, a national program open to all nursing and personal-care homes.

“We organize that through St. Barnabas Charities,” said marketing communications manager Shelli Sommariva, “but we also have a wonderful recreation staff that does a lot of planning for residents, not just at the holidays but year-round.”

This week, more than 100 St. Barnabas residents were expected to attend a “White Christmas”-themed party with live music and food.

“Our residents have a ball, and this year, we're bringing back the photo booth, where residents can pose for keepsake photos,” Sommariva said.

Each year, the staff creates a massive light display along Meridian Road in Richland, including a Christmas tree covered with lights that stands roughly 90 feet tall.

“That's what Christmas is about,” she said.

“It's about giving and making other people who might be lonely feel good.”

At William Penn Care Center in Penn Township, activity director Darcy Williamson helps organize a Christmas-Bow Tree.

“There are bows on the tree numbered for each resident,” Williamson said.

“Our employees pick a bow, match it to a resident's name and buy them a gift.”

At the center's annual Santa Ho Ho Party, Kris Kringle makes an appearance to distribute the presents.

The center also participates in Presents for Patients and this year held traditional-style Christmas dinners at its nursing units for residents and their families.

“This is their home, so this way they can have family come and eat a traditional Christmas meal,” Williamson said.

In Plum, Concordia at Ridgewood Place facility director Carol Strejcek joins with the staff to “adopt” residents during the holidays.

“We put a wish list on all the residents' doors, and they write down three items they'd like for Christmas,” Strejcek said.

The gesture expanded even more when some of the center's volunteers, who also happened to work at Curves in Monroeville, began to adopt residents and got the fitness center involved.

The Concordia staff organizes a Christmas party every year. Last year, members of the Plum-Creek Monroeville Masonic Lodge No. 799 donated cookies for the event.

At the Penn Hills Senior Service Center, Dottie McAlese of Bible Study Productions is getting ready to put on the annual Christmas play.

McAlese, who is retired from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, began with a Bible study class at the center, and it quickly expanded to include the holiday plays.

“Kids in the neighborhood, along with seniors from the center, have volunteered in the play, and this will be the fourth year we've put one on,” McAlese said.

The group puts on plays for Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July.

This year's play, “The Gift,” was set to take place today, Thursday, at 9:30 a.m. at the center, 147 Jefferson Road, Penn Hills.

“It focuses on giving to the poor and giving time at Christmas to those who are less fortunate,” McAlese said.

Those involved with the center also put the play's message into action.

Homebound senior citizens who order meals for delivery through the Penn Hills Senior Service Center will find small gifts included with them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“We always make sure to let them know they're part of the center and the community, too,” staff member Phyllis Paciulli said.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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