NEW YORK --
Several service members from the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, and Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force New York, visited with some of New York’s senior citizens at the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged program’s Williamsburg Senior Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., May 28, 2010, as part of Fleet Week New York’s community outreach projects.
The group Sailors was led by Marine Capt. Afinju McDowell, the movement control officer-in-charge of SPMAGTF NY, and a Brooklyn native. McDowell and seven enlisted Sailors from the Iwo Jima were joined by the ship’s chaplin, Lt.j.g. Larry Jones.
None of the service members new quite what to expect of the visit … all of them agreed they didn’t expect what they walked in on upon arriving at the center.
“I was greatly and pleasantly surprised by the event,” McDowell said, with a giant-smile. “I was expecting to go to a traditional senior center … what I walked into was a ‘high school’ senior center.”
“There was lively music and people,” he continued. “I felt buoyed-up by that.”
The service members happened to join the centers members during the middle of a monthly party said Melissa Cardenas, the center’s director. She explained that the center strives to keep its patrons active by offering a number of weekly events and one major event at the end of every month – this month’s event was a Latin-themed dance.
The service member’s entered the building to a mass of cheers and praise, not to mention a high paced cha-cha dance. Before you know it the service members were introduced and out on the dance floor showing off their skills.
“It was great,” said Seaman Ronnie E. Frost, airmen from the USS Iwo Jima. “I got the chance to meet new people. I got to put a smile on their face; they enjoyed my company, so I enjoyed doing it.”
“I thought I was going to be sitting and telling stories,” Frost added. “I didn’t expect to be enjoying myself by dancing … I mean I learned to cha –cha!”
While some sailors danced with the seniors, others helped the center’s staff conduct a brownie sale in which the proceeds went toward the center’s programs and activities.
According to Cardenas, the center also provides many important services for the senior citizens of New York City, besides engaging activities. The JASA with funding from the New York City Program for the Aging provides seniors with social services, and many other types of support and counseling. The center also provides lunch from Monday thru Friday.
Cardenas said the seniors at the center really looked forward to seeing the service members and the amount of attendees was very high.
“When we got the approval for the sailors to come by we published it and [the seniors] got very excited,” she said. “I didn’t think there was going to be such a huge turnout.”