The West Side Spirit

Reprinted from THE WEST SIDE SPIRIT October 13, 1986

The Holiday Project Visits Lonely, Elderly
BV Donica O'Bradovich
There was much hugging and kissing on the comer of 42nd Street and 6th Avenue one recent morning. Some of the people there hadn't seen each other in a long time and embraced as old friends; others simply embraced because the spirit moved them. One of them wondered if they "looked crazy:' To the casual observer, it looked like preparations for the day's River to River Street Fair; to the trained eye, the fifty volunteers of the Holiday Project were getting ready to celebrate an early Rosh Hashanah with the residents of the Daughters of Jacob Geriatric Center in the Bronx. Bearing gifts from Estee Lauder, smiles, and more hugs and kisses, the volunteers began the first Holiday Project visit of the holiday season. The non-profit group, which was founded in 1971, plans visits to those who are alone for the holidays. In 1981, they officially became a Public Benefit Corporation, and, according to the Chairperson of the Greater New York City Chapter Marcia Sloman, the Holiday Project has 32 chapters nationwide, with 20,000 volunteers visiting around the country, and 3,000 visiting in New York alone. "We plan at least six visits a year, but the big visits come at Christmas and Hanukah;' she said. The organization has visited nursing homes, psychiatric wards and prisons throughout the years. According to organizers, Daughters of Jacob is one of the facilities that they have visited several times. "Here we are, Hello!" said Andy Schwartz, one of the group leaders. Slowly, the residents began to accept the gifts and sing the songs. Some of the volunteers coaxed a resident into singing Let Me Call You Sweetheart, while others talked and exchanged addresses with the residents. Some just held hands for a long time. Members of the Holiday Project estimate that there are two million people alone for the holidays throughout the country, and the purpose of the gruup is, according to them, "People Being With People:' "On my first visit, Iwouldn't go into a room alone because Iwas afraid and I was upse~' said Marshall Stone, a volunteer and organizer of the Daughters of Jacob visit "Really just holding their hand is more than enough:' Organizing a visit takes much organization and cooperation, according to Stone, and v;uious committees within the project are set up to phone volunteers, wrap gifts, and scout out a particular facility. Since the group is non-profit, funds are raised through donations, contributions, and corporate matching gifts. Sloman estimates that about $15,000 is needed for one fiscal year to run the organization in New York. Nobody except the executive director gets paid.

"We're not about to cure a disease, so it's not easy to get the publicity that some benefits might get!' - Barbara Sully
"We're not ready to do Jerry Lewis' Telethon, but we're not about to cure a disease, so it's not easy to get the publicity that some benefits might get;' said Barbara Sully, a volunteer for 10 years, who is the public relations manager in the Northeast She says that the group has received recognition nationally. "But it's important not to lose the autonomy of the local chapters;' she said. Volunteers come from different backgrounds and careers, and often use their skills in managerial positions. Some simply come along on the visits. They acknowledge that these are not easy. 'When we started this, most of us were in our twenties;' said Sully. ''Now that we're in our thirties and forties, it becomes more real. There are people we visit who are out of it or just sit in the meeting room and cry. We leave a gift and talk to them, hoping in some way they'll realize someone cares and then we move on. It's very difficult because we go there with such an incredibly high intention:'

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