Children take on role of Santa in visit to senior center

Ethlyn "Toots" Molander donned her most festive red outfit, took a seat near the front row and listened intently as about 80 fifth-graders merrily sang carols.

For the fourth year, Pinewood Elementary's fifth-graders chose a senior living center — this time it was Augsburg Village in Lochearn — and treated residents to songs, conversation and presents.

"They spoil us with entertainment here," said Molander, 84. "These kids are all wonderful and so sociable. Then they gave me fantastic slippers."

The concert and gift-giving are part of Be Santa to a Senior, a nationwide program that encourages interaction among the generations, particularly during the holidays.

"Everybody does lots with children at Christmas, but a lot of seniors can be forgotten," said Joseph DePetris, community outreach liaison with Home Instead Senior Care, who helped organized the event Tuesday at Augsburg. "These children bring gifts and presence to people who need a smile."

Dozens of seniors clapped as the mostly 10-year-old children entered the community room and piled presents under a tree before surrounding their music teacher at a piano. The applause grew louder after each tune.

"They are taking the place of my own children, who can't be here," said Dorothy Einolf, 89.

The well-rehearsed performers opened with "Deck the Halls" delivered in harmonized rounds, spiced it up with whimsical numbers like "Santa Needs a Vacation" and finished with "Silver Bells" and other favorites. Many in their audience tapped their feet to the music and softly intoned the lyrics that they knew.

The concert ended as, in unison, the singers wished "our friends," a very Merry Christmas.

The party did not end there. The children handed out wrapped gifts to all in attendance and then dispersed the remaining presents to center residents who could not make the concert. Most children had done the shopping with their parents and had chosen practical and pretty gifts.

"It makes us really happy to bring these gifts to the seniors," said Natalie Bray, a student who handed a gift to Florence Borth, 84. "This will make my Christmas happier."

"Velour pajamas!" Borth said."What a great idea!"

Natalie answered, "I am glad you like it. I chose it for you."

Many children easily engaged their elders in conversation, mostly about their own holiday wishes and the presents they brought. They had each pulled the name of an Augsburg resident from a tree in the lobby of their school in Timonium. They also have a fully laden hat and mitten tree, which they are donating to Baltimore County Social Services.

Mary Wanner, 94, loved her hot-pink fleece pullover and Diane Dubner, 75, said the soft white blanket she got would keep her cozy as she watched her favorite TV shows. Margaret Diehl, 89, clutched a pale-pink flannel nightgown that she promised to wear right away.

"This is such a treat for them!" said Bonnie Ruff, activities coordinator at Augsburg. "So many don't have families nearby to come and visit."

Bob Knock, who turns 89 Thursday, received double gifts, including a trendy Polo shirt.

"I will really be in style," he said.

Marlene Stratemeyer, 79, said, "A concert and presents. What more could you want?"

How about a pretty gold pin with a manger scene, asked Grace Boyce, who attached the new bling to Stratemeyer's lapel.

Angie Attanasio, 86, left with heavy sweat pants for her husband and a blanket for herself.

"I thought we would be getting homemade presents, and I would have loved that, but these children went all-out," she said. "I will think about them every time I put this blanket over my knees."

Arthur Molander, Ethlyn's 89-year-old cousin, decided to defer the unwrapping until Christmas morning.

"These happy children are the best present," he said.

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