Eye On the Ball: Happy Saturday

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO
Russell and Jenny Smith at the December 1 Shelter Island Home Care Christmas party.

Last Saturday afternoon I was planning on attending a home basketball game. I told my son that I’d be a little late since I was invited to a party before the game.

I figured on staying at the party for an hour or so and then heading over to the gym to watch the game. However, my plans changed quickly after I got to the celebration. It was as different as any Christmas get-together as I’ve ever attended. It was a Filipino-style gathering with Filipinos making up 90 percent of the guests. I don’t know how an Italian boy from New Jersey got invited.

I never got to the gym.

When tip-off rolled around I was being asked to be a judge in a Great Gatsby-themed costume party. Along with four other judges, I sat as all the contestants showed off their best 1920s stuff.

This was the annual party for Shelter Island Home Care in appreciation for the hard work of their personal care aides, administration and clients. On this afternoon, about 100 people were in attendance and although you always see happiness at parties, this one had another dimension. Every part of this event was planned for entertainment, including something for everyone.

I had Filipino food that was delicious. We were all assigned to different tables. Sitting at my table were a couple of home care aides, their clients and their families. The lady sitting next to me was in a wheelchair. Like many of the clients, she had a touch of either dementia or Alzheimer’s. For a 5-hour span, this 80-year-old woman was 40 again. She was having a ball, even though she introduced me to her son at least 15 times.

I loved when the home care people would come to our table and take one arm each of this lady and dance with her to the non-stop music of a great DJ.

Soon people were setting up the middle of the floor for a game of musical chairs. Since my childhood, this has always been one of my favorite games. Lots of laughter, but the competition was a first for me at an adult party.

Next, we had 30 people who entered the costume party with five of us as judges. These folks really got into some unusual costumes. The “flappers” danced up to the judges like we were back in the 1920s. With their attitudes and costumes, they were really having fun. At the end, every participant got a prize, with the winners taking home the best.

This was an appreciation party, and gifts were plentiful: the organizers were careful that no one was left out.

The DJ was right on with upbeat music all afternoon. Then came the awards presented to caretakers for things such as Caretaker of the Year, most valuable, most dependable, Rookie of the Year, Shining Star and many more.

We were entertained by a couple of caretakers with great voices. They sang a few songs and then we moved into the dancing part. It was hard not to dance with the music the DJ picked out for the afternoon. I was more than content watching all these hard-working people having a good time but never ignoring the sick.

I decided to find out more about the company and the get-together. The two owners are Islanders Russell and Jenny Smith. From day one they’ve proudly referred to their service as the “Filipino Standard of Care.” Many of their caretakers stay in the clients’ homes and cook, clean, do laundry and care for them just as if they were a family member. They like to feel that the client has independent living.

Russell and Jenny started the business in 2006 with one client. Their company has now expanded to all of Long Island with 70 personal care aides.

Jenny was the oldest of 13 children and came to the Island from Manila in 2001. She started caretaking and house cleaning for three popular Islanders, Lillian McCandless, Louise Fallert and August Mosca. She gives Ms. McCandless credit for many of her ideas, including the inspiration for this business.

Russell was the oldest of four brothers and lived in Connecticut. He is a 25-year retired Navy chief with all gold stripes that represent at least 12 years of good conduct. It was also obvious that Russell is proud to be from the old Smith family from New England. He came to the Island in 2004.

I would like to thank them for including me in such a wonderful afternoon. I felt so much love and happiness in that room and watched as everyone participated in the festivities. What made it even better for me is the basketball game I missed, Shelter Island lost. Instead of going home depressed, I ended up going home in a great mood.

Next year Russell and Jenny said they are looking to make the party even bigger. Count me in.

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