Seniors — both school, citizens — come together for prom

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Walkers and wheelchairs should not stop anyone from having a good time.

That’s what residents at Park Gardens Rehabilitation and Nursing Center proved, hosting the center’s second annual Senior/Senior Prom. And their dates didn’t have to travel far — they’re rising seniors at Marble Hill High School for International Studies.

The June 12 event took place at the senior center’s 6585 Broadway recreation room, which was decked out with streamers and balloons. Attendees, both young and old, had a good time dancing, singing, and feasting on meatballs, garlic bread and juice.

This was the second year Park Gardens hosted a Senior/Senior prom, originally inspired by a conversation the center’s recreation director, Karen Baratta, had with the some of the residents last year.

“It started as a trivia game that I was playing with a discussion group,” she said. “Half of them had never been to a prom — some never finished high school. So they had a lot of questions about it. I thought it would be fun to have a prom with them.”

Baratta worked with Marble Hill principal Kirsten Larson to decide on the colors, decorations and entertainment. Baratta advertised the event to the Park Gardens residents, Larson did her part to find student volunteers — six of them, in fact.

Sindy Torres, set to become a senior next year at the Marble Hill school, considered this to be one of her best volunteer experiences so far.

“My principal sent us all an email about it and I just said yes,” Torres said. “I don’t know why, but I just said yes.”

Community service is integral to the student experience at Marble Hill, Larson said, but teens like Marleny Sanchez — who decided to dance the afternoon away — recognized that their presence was important in a broader sense.

“We make them happy,” she said. “They can feel like they have people support them.”

Once the teens arrived, the hired entertainers were off, crooning hits like Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.”

As the music played on, the students and Park Gardens staff members danced up and down the aisle, formed by chairs and wheelchairs. Some residents moved to a variety of rhythms while others sang along to the songs they knew. Others simply clapped along.

Ruben Acosta was one of those residents up and dancing. This was his first Senior/Senior Prom, and loved the salsa because it was filled with his “favorite rhythms.”

“I love to dance,” he said. “I had fun, 100 percent.”

Barratta knew it was important to put on the prom a second time, Barratta said, so new residents like Acosta could experience it.

“Last year, they were very excited because they didn’t know what to expect,” Barratta said of the senior center residents. “But a lot of the new people, who weren’t here last year are also very excited because they don’t know what the prom is.”

Ramonita Felix was up dancing almost the whole hour. She was joined by her daughter, who served as her “date.”

“I’m always dancing, everywhere, ever since I was young,” Felix said. “I just love it.” 

Dorca Rodriguez, an excited attendee, called the event beautiful.

“I heard about it on Saturday and I’ve been excited since,” she said. “And now it’s here, and it’s no more.”

All in all, those who showed up for the prom said they had a magnificent time. The teens’ presence brought a new energy to Park Gardens residents that day.

“I think sometimes a lot of the nursing home residents are very isolated,” Barratta said. “They don’t get to go outside, a lot of them don’t have family. So anybody outside, it’s fun for them to see visitors in the building."

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