The weather outside was icy cold, but the atmosphere inside the Forest Glen Senior Community was warm and sunny last Friday when residents there enjoyed a Teddy Bear Tea.
WESTERN FAIRFAX Christian Ministries (WFCM) provided the refreshments — cake, cookies, candies and tea — and decorated each table with cheerful stuffed animals. (Due to the snow, the Valentine-themed event was held Feb. 16).
"Our ladies here volunteer for WFCM's food pantry and clothes closet, and stuff envelopes for mailing, so WFCM did a tea for us," explained Forest Glen's marketing director, Georgine Quigley.
It was the second time WFCM sponsored a tea there, and Executive Director Dorothy Fonow told the residents that everyone has an opportunity to help. "Who knows?" she asked. "You may have hidden talents, such as speaking a foreign language, that we can use. And if you can't come to us to help, we can come to you and bring you things to do."
The guest speaker was Flora "Grandma" Green, 85 years young, who lives in Fairfax and is the national spokeswoman for the Fair Lakes-based Seniors Coalition. During WWII, she operated an overhead crane to support the war effort and, as time went on, her service to others only increased.
In her seven years as spokeswoman for the Seniors Coalition, she's logged more than 500,000 miles, speaking to hundreds of thousands of senior citizens in her efforts to both educate them about important issues and advocate for them.
"I visit senior centers and discuss issues such as Medicare, Social Security and macular degeneration — which is the greatest cause of blindness," said Green. "And I go to Capitol Hill and meet with members of Congress. I call them all by their first names; I'm older than they are."
WHEN A MATTER of importance to senior citizens is coming up in Congress, she said, either the congressmen or their chiefs of staff call her to get the feedback she receives from the seniors she's visited. The most pressing issue currently, said Green, is "the concern over Social Security and how secure is it?"
"We also want to make sure that doctors and hospitals are correctly reimbursed for Medicare payments," she said. "And we help people access the prescription-benefit programs that will best help them. I tell them how to get information that makes it possible for them. Sometimes, we all need help."
Addressing a whole roomful of seniors at Friday's tea, Green told them, "I'm here to protect me and you. We need to instill in our children that every bill passed in Congress will affect them."
Among those attending the event was 84-year-old Mary Saccomano, who's lived at Forest Glen for 10 years. "I love it here and I think the tea is lovely," she said. "I volunteer twice a week where my grandson, Richard Ryan III, goes to school at Deer Park Elementary." Saccomano volunteers at London Towne Elementary, too, and she and her husband also belong to the Sully Senior Center.
Ruby Kirkaldy said the tea was very nice. "I enjoyed it — we should do this more often," she said. "It's good to see people getting out of their apartments and getting together. I volunteer at three schools — London Towne, Bull Run and Deer Park — and go to the senior center on Mondays and Thursdays."
Sidney Blumenthal also appreciated the social activity. Referring to all the paper hearts adorning the tables and walls, he said, "They worked really hard putting up all the decorations and getting things all dressed up. Although, I ate too much cake."
Carmella Romano said the tea was wonderful and she really liked Green's speech. She formerly volunteered with the Legion of Mary at St. Timothy Catholic Church. As for her friend Janaki Sagar, "I very much enjoyed the tea," she said. "I got specially dressed for it in my sari. In India, a sari is an everyday affair, but not here. But being that it was a party and the church was involved, I got dressed up."
AFTERWARD, Fonow said she tried to emphasize the benefits of volunteering, for both the seniors and their community. "And I made some good recruits today," she said. "A man from Afghanistan who's a retired physics professor offered to tutor some children in math. And a woman who just moved here from New York signed up because she wants to keep busy."
Fonow said six or seven Forest Glen residents presently volunteer for WFCM. "One blind woman translates for the clients who speak Farsi and other languages," she said. "And she's also worked the switchboard."'
She, too, had a great time at the tea and joined the seniors as they sang, "Battle Hymn of the Aging." Said Fonow: "I love to sing and have fun with people."