Laughter and joy emanated from the community room at St. Anthony Garden Courts in St. Cloud as residents from the senior living center and residents from the neighboring community, Bishop Grady Villas, came together to learn, paint and play a little Bingo. St. Anthony Garden Courts is a program of Catholic Charities of Central Florida that provides affordable housing to low-income seniors. The weekly intergenerational program with the adult residents with disabilities served by Bishop Grady Villas next door began last month and was a logical step according the Catholic Charities of Central Florida executive director Gary Tester.
“Thinking about Bishop Noonan’s priorities about harmonizing ministries, we have a population of seniors who have much to give and we have a wonderful population at Bishop Grady Villas that has much to give. So the idea was to see how we could connect them,” said Tester. “I look at it as intergenerational opportunities. They’re neighbors and neighbors ought to get together.”
Simona Torres, property manager for Catholic Charities’ affordable housing programs, said “We hope to enhance both programs because we have the same mission—to enhance life and provide housing. This helps socialization and helps the senior residents give back to young people. The Bishop Grady Villas residents are great and need mentorship. They may be in a wheelchair or disabled, but they’re savvy on laptops and both groups can inspire each other.”
Candida Britto, a resident of St. Anthony Garden Courts since 2011, sat and painted with Gail Persan and several other Bishop Grady Villas residents. Britto said, “I enjoy getting to know them a little better. They are happy.” And the appreciation was mutual. “I love that they’re outgoing, personable, and pleasant. We can talk,” said Persan. The chance to converse about their lives, interests, and activities is at the core of the programs goal.
St. Anthony Garden Courts resident Itria Saldana said she joined the group because, “We are all brothers and sisters and need to communicate and have relationships with one another. God wants us to be united and I am called to love my neighbor as myself.” Saldana, who creates floral arrangements, promised to teach the Bishop Grady Villas residents the art, which was met with great applause.
This was the first time Gladys Rivera came to spend time with the Bishop Grady Villas residents, but she said she always greets them when they are on campus. Rivera, who was a special education teacher for 12 years said, “They have a great significance for me because they are human beings like me. They have the potential and possibility to go ahead and that was my job—to find out what was that possibility and help them on their way.”
Oniel Tobias, the Bishop Grady Villas’ activities coordinator, said the program serves to help both resident groups share life experiences. He noted with excitement, “So we are going to learn from them and they are going to learn from us.”