WARWICK, RI — What started as a humble Jewish ritual for a small group of senior residents turned into a party — one that tugged at the heartstrings in surprising ways.
When Naomi Fink Cotrone at Right at Home, 730 Warwick Ave, began planning a Dec. 12 Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony for the Jewish residents of The Highlands on the East Side, she couldn’t have anticipated the emotional impact the event would have on residents and staff.
When a senior moves into an assisted living community, they often downsize in more ways than just eliminating their possessions. S ometimes lifelong traditions fall by the wayside. What was once a hallowed ritual can begin to feel like just a memory of another lifetime. This feeling is only amplified when seniors are in a religious minority; the Christmas trees are nice, but not their own.
So on the first night of Hanukkah this year, Cotrone and her Right at Home team organized a “light-up-the-evening” event for the community. The senior care franchise partnered with The Highlands on the East Side and invited residents and their families to join the ritual celebration. Together, Right at Home and The Highlands set up a dreidel-spinning station complete with chocolate gelt, a photo booth with Hanukkah-themed props, a three-foot-tall millennial pink menorah, traditional donuts meant to eat for Hanukkah, and traditional potato pancakes called “latkes” that were generously donated by the East Side Marketplace.
“Laurie from our office is married to the chef at East Side Marketplace, and our entire office team prepared for this event with incredible enthusiasm, adopting it as their own holiday for the day,” said Cotrone. “What started as a community-builder really turned into a labor of love, and for that, I’m so proud of the staff.”
During the event, Eddie Fink, Cotrone’s father, led the group in Hanukkah storytelling, and Cotrone chanted the melodic traditional Hebrew prayers over the candles.
As she chanted, Cotrone noticed one senior in particular who was transfixed by the flames. Cotrone invited her to light a second menorah, and as the flame touched the wicks, the senior’s eyes welled up, beaming. She quietly held Cotrone’s hand throughout the rest of the ceremony.
“This was very special for me, because I no longer have grandparents,” Cotrone said. “I felt like I needed her as much as she needed me.”
Cotrone said she has always been drawn to working with older people for this very reason, and once you meet her, her passion for her work is immediately evident. She has an intuition about her that allows her to walk into a room, meet someone, and only after a few minutes of conversation, understand what they need and how she can help.
“Naomi has a sixth sense about how to help, and what people need,” said Pete Garafalo, Head of Sales and Marketing at Right at Home of Warwick. “She has a calming, helpful presence, and it is the heart of this business, and by extension, this community.”
Mary Ellen Lehman, The Highlands’ Director of Memory Care and Community Engagement, was overjoyed by the program. “The residents were made to feel so special,” Lehman said. “The feedback since the event has been incredible. The seniors loved the food, enjoyed the games, and had fun getting their pictures taken. I know it particularly meant a lot to one resident, Janet, whose daughter also joined. This event allowed them to celebrate the holiday in a real way, together.”
Others echoed Lehman’s sentiment. Debra Demar of White Cross Pharmacy in North Providence, a Right at Home colleague, came along to support her friends, but was surprised by her own reaction. “It was special for me because I realized that since my divorce eight years ago, I haven’t celebrated Hanukkah,” Demar said. “So it was very moving — it tapped into something for me. I don’t have much family; I have a mother in memory care, but that’s it. It felt good to be back in the Jewish community.”
“We’re so grateful that Right at Home reached out to us and initiated this wonderful program that brought our residents and families together,” added Lehman. The event was such a success that The Highlands and Right at Home are already discussing partnering for Passover 2018.
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