“There are about 56 women here, and five guys,” Elvis said coolly and coyly to the audience at the Senior Life Center in Gainesville on a recent afternoon. “But it’s Christmas, and we’re going to making sure everyone is involved.”
And with that introduction, Mark Pitt, an Elvis tribute singer from Sugar Hill, dressed in the famed white jumpsuit and sparkling blue jewels of an icon, launched into a flurry of Christmas renditions made famous by the King of Rock N Roll.
From “White Christmas” to “Blue Christmas,” Pitt gracefully made his way around the senior center mess hall, draping festive scarves over the shoulders of women and men, matching closely the tenor, baritone and bass pitch that one critic described as Elvis’ vocal range.
Pitt said his frequent visits to senior centers, nursing homes and retirement communities are a way to connect with a generation that revered Elvis and cherishes some bygone days.
“They lived Elvis – the real thing,” he said.
But there’s a lot more to it than that, as Pitt soon lets on.
“It’s not a show for me,” he said. “They’re what it’s all about, especially this time of year.”
Especially this time of year.
For the elderly, the senior center is one place to find camaraderie in a world changing so fast. And this socializing can be important for their health.
“It means a lot because you can get in touch with people your age,” said Adelaide Britte, who moved to Gainesville to live with her son a few years ago after her husband died.
Britte said senior center friends are more like family, and everyone “tries to help one another.”
Mary Bolden said she visits the senior center about four times each week, and encourages others to join her.
“I really enjoy it,” she said. “It keeps me active.”
Nancy Simpson, program coordinator at the senior center, says helping the elderly stay connected, supported and appreciated takes work, but it’s a passion she’s been involved in for more than 20 years.
“I stay on my toes all the time trying to think of things to bring into the center,” she said. “It is so rewarding to plan an event that brings happiness and joy into their life.”
Choking up, Simpson added, “It just thrills me.”
Doug Hanson, a Gainesville resident who volunteers for Meals on Wheels, said the social aspect of the mission is as important as delivering food to those in need, particularly the elderly and disabled.
“The relationships we build are that critical,” he added. “It’s something I look forward to every week.”
Hanson said many of his Meals on Wheels “clients” have become dear friends.
Weekly visits give him an opportunity to assess their physical strength, or check in on someone who is in grief, or even cheer and celebrate goings-on in their lives.
Abating the sense of loss and disjointedness some seniors may feel during the holidays, such as with those who have little direct family, can be the difference between life and death. Literally.
“I’ve also been able to be there when someone had a stroke,” Hanson said.
Hanson described another woman he visited who struggled with dementia.
Living alone, he said, this woman began to speak of her fear of falling and her forgetfulness. She once had to be helped after locking herself out of the house one day.
Hanson said he made sure she received a medical alert device she could wear around her neck, with a push-button to call for medical assistance.
“She is now in full nursing care and I miss her weekly check-up,” Hanson said.
And therein lies the real impact.
Hanson, who is in his late 70s, recently went through months of cancer treatment.
He’s doing well now, but he was delightfully surprised to find himself on the other end of check-ups from his Meals on Wheels family.
Hanson said he received get-well cards, which was “quite incredible,” and was asked about his prognosis along the way.
Hanson added that he has been “deeply touched by their interaction in my life.”