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Cheer and love surround those in assisted living homes

Independent living residents at Carnegie Village Senior Living Community, in Belton, Mo., enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 14 with family and friends. Carnegie Village staff each year create a calendar of events for residents.
Independent living residents at Carnegie Village Senior Living Community, in Belton, Mo., enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 14 with family and friends. Carnegie Village staff each year create a calendar of events for residents. Special to The Democrat

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is in full swing and classics like “Let it Snow” fill the airwaves. Shoppers flock to the stores to check off their lists in time to surprise family and friends near and far for the holidays. But not everyone is mobile enough to leave their homes to celebrate with loved ones.

Many seniors — and often those who live in assisted living facilities — are staying put this holiday season. And to ensure it’s merry and bright, staff members at these facilities are busy preparing fun-filled festivities.

From cookie and tree decorating to holiday feasting, there’s no shortage of events at senior living centers around Kansas City.

“It gives the residents a chance to invite their family in to where they live and show pride in where they live,” said Ky Moody, executive administrator at Carnegie Village Senior Living Community in Belton. Moody had been finishing up the Thanksgiving arrangements shortly before Nov. 22.

“Most of these residents are used to hosting Thanksgiving for years and years and years with their families. That’s why they like to have their families come to them at least for one meal and spend time where they live.”

The community, located at 107 Bernard Drive, is home to 260 residents. With a staff of 200, Carnegie Village is well-equipped to give its residents that extra-special treatment during the holidays.

But Thanksgiving dinner is only the beginning of the season’s festivities, Moody says. The calendar is filled with events throughout December — almost all of which are planned according to resident feedback. This year, residents in the facility’s independent living facility are performing a holiday recital for residents, staff and families.

“One of the residents wheeled herself into my office and asked if she could start a choir and I said, Yes, that’s great idea!’”

The 20-member choir — ranging in age from 80 to 101 years old — will don red robes for their hour-long performance in December. The facility will also host a holiday dinner for residents and their families on Dec. 21.

In Lee’s Summit, staff members and residents at John Knox Village, located at 1001 NW Chipman Road, are gearing up for their own holiday festivities filled with pies, handmade greeting cards, and lots of decorations.

“We have trees every place you could put one,” says assisted living resident and volunteer Marie Wilson, 79. “I don’t think there is any place around decorated any prettier than ours.”

Wilson, a Lebanon, Mo., native, says the Christmas decorations are one of her favorite things about the holidays at John Knox Village.

Staff members, volunteers and residents each year spend the Saturday after Thanksgiving decorating the entire facility, says Trisha Rains, activity coordinator at Village Assisted Living. “This place gets transformed within that day,” Rains says.

Residents drink hot cocoa and listen to holiday music while helping to assemble trees and hang ornaments. It’s a lot of work, Rains says, but it’s worth the excitement she sees on residents’ faces when they are finished. “That is what makes it really feel like family. Not just about bringing back old memories, but making new ones. The more they know each other, the more they have that sense of family.”

Every Christmas Day, residents who don’t leave to celebrate with family order takeout from their favorite restaurants and eat by the fireplace.\“It really doesn’t bother me because I have friends to eat with here and we just have a good time,” Wilson says of the time with her neighbors.

Other residents — like those at Sunrise Senior Living in Overland Park — opt to head outdoors for some holiday fun by hitting the road for a holiday lights excursion around town.

Activities and Volunteer Coordinator Tiana Wunder says the scenic lights tour kicks off Nov. 27 with one of the season’s most popular events: Christmas in the Park at Frank White Jr., Softball Complex on Longview Park Drive.

Residents load into buses and head out to see the lights, all while sipping hot chocolate and cider and singing along to their favorite Christmas carols.

Events like the lights tour make the holidays special for residents at Sunrise Senior Living while creating a sense of community among them, says Regional Director of Sales Sarah Christensen.

“These folks have had to leave their homes that they have lived in for 50-plus years. We want to make sure that they still feel the warmth and the love that they did when they were in their own homes,” she says.

Wunder says that sense of community extends to all residents, even those who don’t celebrate the holidays.

“We are their second family and for some of our residents we are the only family they have. What it boils down to is making sure each one of our residents, no matter their background, feel important and that we give them a light and sparkle in their eye that they may not have had before.”

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