HAMLET – Senior citizens from Richmond County began arriving early at the Cole Auditorium on Wednesday for their annual Christmas party presented by Richmond County Aging Services.
The event was sponsored by Richmond County Government, as well as several local businesses. This ongoing event has been celebrating for 39 years.
Even though temperatures were in the low 20s, the frigid air didn’t seem to hinder seniors from coming out to celebrate the season. Folks arrived to meet with friends and enjoy the festivities that were planned just for them on this special day. It is a year-long anticipated event where the holiday cheer is shared among our seniors.
All sorts of activities took place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Preparation began for the party in January of this year, and continued throughout the year.
“We start planning in January for the year-end Christmas party,” explained Jacqueline Welch, Executive Director of Aging Services. “All the staff look forward to it each year, and we try to make it better every year.
“It is a great way to support the seniors and bring them together to celebrate the holidays as well as giving important information to help them,” continued Welch, who has been with the agency for 13 years.
Welch told a story of a situation an elderly man had the other day: his hot water heater went out and he didn’t have funds to purchase a new one. He walked into the Aging Services to get help, and Welch said they were able to connect him with the North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) for help.
At the Christmas party, the senior was able to meet the man in which he spoke to over the phone that day regarding help.
“That is what makes it all worth-while” Welch said.
Ellerbe Senior Center Director Judy Tyndall echoed by saying it is a pleasure to work and serve the seniors in Richmond County.
Richmond Senior High School’s JROTC had several volunteers helping pack fruit bags the day before, as well as helping serve the day of the event. It was junior Command Sargent Major Amya Garris’ second time volunteering.
“Working and coming together as a team today will help seniors, who may be unable to get out often, enjoy Christmas time,” Garris said. “We hope they feel loved.”
Senior Battalion Commander Trey Watson’s said his first experience volunteering was one that he won’t soon forget.
“Aging Services is a good program to help out,” Watson said. “It gets out into the community and promotes the JROTC Mission Statement which is to motivate young people to become better citizens.”
Volunteer Coordinator Terry Rush was at the party, along with other volunteers, some of which included: Richmond County employees, a wildlife officer, Richmond County Department of Social Services and employees from von Drehle Corporation.
As party-goers arrived, they began with enjoying a meal while socializing and viewing the many booths that were set-up.
Billy Martin, Dietary Manager for Hamlet House, cooked a variety of breakfast biscuits for the first half of the party. He also made homemade soup for the seniors to enjoy for the second half.
“I love to walk the walk as I put TLC into my cooking,” Martin expressed of his love for cooking. “I have a desire to make people happy; a ‘thank you’ from someone is better to me than money.”
Martin has been cooking for the senior Christmas party for three years, but has been cooking for a total of 49 years. Pruitt Healthcare also offered homemade chili.
Richmond County Public Libraries, AARP, FirstHealth, State Employee’s Credit Union, Liberty Healthcare Group, Lincoln Heritage Funeral Home, and the Richmond County Health Department had booths set up to give information on their respective services.
Tess Holtzapfel with Community Patriot Art Center in Fayetteville, N.C., was also set up with veteran and painter Justin Spears and singer Jill Charles. Spears donated two of his paintings as door prizes.
“I thank Jacqueline Welch and Joey Bennett for having us here today to share in the season of joy and giving with veterans and their families,” Holtzapfel said expressing her gratitude. “I also want to take time to thank all veterans for their service to our country and for the freedom (they give us).”
Jackie McAuley, who works for Richmond County Soil and Water, took pictures of seniors as they selected and posed with a variety of hats and scarfs.
“I enjoy everything they offer us at the Christmas party, I like it all” said Joyce Thompson, who posed for her photo wearing a tiara.
Nate Peterkin displayed a booth for Affinity Living Group. They also provided snacks for the seniors.
“We offer a cookie coupon to all that come and view the assisted living home,” Peterkin said. “This entitles anyone to a dozen free cookies.”
Around 3 p.m., the second half of the party’s entertainment was set to start. Michael Martin from High Point, N.C., along with Aaron and Becky Johnson, were the first to take the stage which was lined with decorative poinsettias. They started out singing “Mary Did You Know” then went on to sing several more holiday songs.
The crowd joined in as they sang “Jingle Bells,” and during Elvis’ “Blue Christmas,” one couple got up and danced. Some stood up to worship as Martin and the Johnsons ended with “Oh Holy Night.”
A moment was taken in memory of Louise Ledbetter who had worked with the Senior Christmas Party for 14 years. Ledbetter recently passed away.
Next to take the stage was Jill Charles, who is a military wife, as her husband and both of her sons serve. Charles lives in Fayetteville, and has been writing music for 10 years. The first song Charles sang was dedicated to all who serve or have served in the military, as the heartfelt song mentioned “We stand with you to honor the red, white, and blue, and all the sacrifices you made and all you’ve been through. Thank you for your time in place of mine.”
After the live entertainment ended, the much awaited “Chicken Dance” began. United Way’s Michelle Parrish, DSS’ Theressa Smith, Tyndall, David Adeimy, and East Rockingham Senior Center Director Donna Luther took the stage and led the crowd in the well-known dance.
Door prizes, which were donated by individuals and local businesses, were awarded to lucky ticket winners. No one left empty-handed, as fruit bags were given to all in exchange for a yellow ticket.
As Richmond County Aging Services will begin next month to prepare for next year’s Senior Christmas Party, Welch encourages donations and volunteers. Welch can be contacted at 910-997-4491, or for more information, view its webpage www.richmondnc.com