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Hoschton-based group helps senior citizens celebrate
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Cakes For Seniors founder Dawn Miller hands a cupcake to Donna Failyer at the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Life Center during a St. Patrick's Day celebration. Cakes For Seniors, a nonprofit organization, was started last year by a group of residents living in the Reunion subdivision near Hoschton. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Dawn Miller talks about her work with Cakes for Seniors, a group she founded early last year.

Dawn Miller's ailing grandmother cried as her family presented her a birthday cake on her 80th birthday.

"She said that was the first birthday cake anybody had made for her," Miller said. "It was her first cake ever."

Later, as Miller began working in the senior health care field, she realized that many other elderly people were in a similar circumstance as her grandmother - they had can gone through life without the baked, frosted and lighted confection placed in front of them.

Or they were living by themselves, perhaps in a nursing home, with no family looking after them.

The Hoschton resident, also an eldercare adviser with A Place for Mom, started Cakes for Seniors "to make sure that every senior had someone that remembered them on their birthday," she said.

"We'll make a cake for them, take it by and spend 30 minutes with them."

The work has grown from finding and baking for seniors celebrating their big day to baking dozens of cupcakes for events at nursing homes and senior centers.

She brought green and white cupcakes on March 17 to the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Life Center at 430 Prior St. for the center's St. Patrick's Day celebration.

"We recently did cakes for a prom at a senior center," Miller said. "It's really just finding a way to reach out and touch a senior who might need a hug or someone remembering them on their birthday."

The group relies on donations - money, food or services.

"We're definitely in need of anybody donating something like (cake) containers and cake mixes," Miller said. "We've got a grocery store that does donate cakes on occasion, but the majority of my cakes come from volunteers or myself."

She said the budget of many care centers has been cut because of the failing economy, and they can't provide such extras.

Miller has about 12 people in her subdivision who have helped with baking.

"I can call them and, within a day, have from each of them 24 cupcakes, and they all decorate them themselves and they get their children involved," she said.

Miller's group also needs people who will help deliver cakes to seniors; she said it's a special moment when you arrive.

"The most wonderful thing in the world is walking through the door with a cake, sitting it down in front of a senior, bringing them a card and seeing their face light up like they are a child," she said. "... They want you to stay all day and visit."

Frequently, she has found that seniors have baked cakes for family members through the years but never have received one of their own.

Miller's grandmother, who died 10 years ago, was just that type.

"She had raised me, and so she and I were super close," Miller said, "and every year, she remembered my birthday. I remember one year, going through a phase where I didn't eat sweets, she brought pickles to my school for my birthday."

Today's culture, with its huge push of birthday parties in all kinds of settings, has parents making sure that cake, with the right number of candles, is part of the celebration.

"It's the nature of a family that we tend to bake cakes for everybody else," Miller said.

The group, which started early in 2008, plans to launch a cake for diabetics, as many seniors are struggling with the disease.

"I've gotten a great recipe and tried it, and it'll be a good hit," she said.

Miller has been able to find seniors mainly through senior centers and nursing homes.

"We haven't grown enough to take cakes to seniors stranded in their homes," she said.

Gloria Wilms, senior programs coordinator at the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Life Center, said she appreciates the work Miller's organization has done so far.

"I think it's a great idea. A lot of our seniors don't have the opportunity to go into the kitchen and bake like they used to," she said. "... This gives them the chance to get that fresh homemade cake that they don't normally get to have.

"And who doesn't like a cake?"

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