Seniors show tricks not just for kids

Posted on 08. Dec, 2009 by in Uncategorized

By Almudena Toral

Maria del Carmen Ilarraza, 72, knew she was a great actress and performer. But it wasn’t until Oct. 31 last year that she found out she was also the soul of any given party.

Like Ilarraza, more than 70 other seniors–most of them from Puerto Rico- love celebrating Halloween at Carver Senior Center in East Harlem.

“This celebration is to give them back at their elderly age what they didn’t have during their childhood,” Yvonne Petty, a social worker at the center, said in Spanish.

But this October will be the first one in 19 years when they won’t have a celebration with live music and costumes. A pipe in the basement exploded three weeks ago, flooding half the senior center. Director Maria Rivera and the rest of her crew managed to reopen the basement, where the dining, activities and craft rooms are. But New York City Housing Authority has scheduled the final repairs of the water compressor for Oct. 30, the day of the bash.

Program coordinator Leonor Toledo complained that the Housing Authority took too many days to look at their case. If it had been done earlier, Toledo said, there would have been no problem. Given the circumstances, the director has decided to cancel the Halloween party. But, as of Wednesday, the seniors had not been told yet.

“I’ll dress again as Paquita la del Barrio, I already have the costume,” Ilarraza said waving her hands over her curvy body, mimicking the Mexican artist.

“I have a diablito mask,” said Puerto Rican William Putnam, 77. His domino playmates made fun of him for being a real devil, not only on Halloween.

“Some of them disguise so well that you can’t really tell who is who until they take off their costumes,” said Blanca Martir, the president of Carver’s Advisory Board. In previous years seniors have dressed in Muslim, Japanese and magician costumes, to name a few. Many seniors make their own costumes at the arts and crafts workshops held at the senior center each week. During the party, even those in wheel chairs dance.

Director Rivera said that cancelling Halloween is upsetting.

“It is a day in which they forget their daily problems. They forget about rent, diabetes and the fact that they’re alone.”

But despite the cancellation, she remained positive. “It will not be a big deal as we’re offering alternatives, and I’ll give them a huge celebration for Puerto Rico Day on Nov. 19 to compensate,” Rivera said.

They’re not having the party, but they’ll still get a piece of cake and a bag with candy, Martir said with a smile. “We can also offer transportation to other senior centers if they want to go,” she added.

Some may head over to Cavello Senior Center on 109th Street, which like Carver is also run jointly by the city and the Institute for the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly. This institute is the only nonprofit of its kind serving the Hispanic and other ethnic minority seniors in New York City.

The group normally advises its senior centers to have celebrations for Halloween, but it’s the director of each center who decides, and its seniors who make it possible.

At Carver, no senior wants to miss an opportunity to party with friends – with or without costumes. “This is my second home. Here I find my friends, understanding and lots of guidance,” Ilarraza said.

Every year, seniors talk about Halloween for weeks after the celebration.

But will seniors choose to celebrate in other places when they find out there is no party at Casita Maria–the old name of Carver Senior Center.

Maria Torres, 70, thinks she’ll either celebrate at Carver or stay at home. Ilarraza doesn’t think she could change locations either. “I live across the street, and Halloween’s a dangerous day. I wouldn’t go to any other center.”

Meanwhile, Rivera has already called the Ecuadorean man who sings year after year at their Halloween party to make sure he’s available for Puerto Rico Day in November.

“He sings them songs of the old times,” Rivera said. And they love it.

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