Here is the story of how I became a “Friendly Visitor”. When my Father, Frederick J. Scharf Jr., whom at that time was 79 years old, came to live with my husband Dominic and I in our home in Guilford, CT we became involved in this wonderful program called “Friendly Visiting”. It’s a volunteer based, non profit program under the Direction of Ann Marie Gunn of “GIV” Guilford Interfaith Volunteers. This program was created to help the elderly members of our community “stay in touch” and be visited for one hour a week by another volunteer community member whom Ann Marie carefully matched up. Guilford Interfaith Ministries, the home of “Charlie’s Closet”, Meals On Wheels” and “Friendly Visiting” is committed to helping our elderly community in special ways through it’s volunteers.
My Dad was blessed to have two wonderful “Friendly Visitors” whom he enjoyed tremendously and I knew that one day I would dedicate myself to becoming a “Friendly Visitor”. My Daddy passed away in 2018 and approximately 6 months later I called Ann Marie and said “I’m ready!” She asked me if I was interested in possibly going to a nursing home? I said “Yes, of course! I practically grew up in nursing homes.” She said, “Really?” I then told her that my Mother, Merle was an aide and my Aunt was the chef in our local nursing home for many years. It was called Fowler’s Convalescent Home. She laughed and said, “Oh my gosh…that’s the one that I’m thinking of. It’s now called Apple Rehab.” I knew at that moment that it was meant to be!
Well, the very next week I began my “Friendly Visiting” volunteering. At first, it was a one-on-one with a woman who had been diagnosed with dementia. Then Ann Marie asked me if I would be comfortable doing a group “Friendly Visiting?” She wanted to utilize my talents as a singer and entertainer to share with more of the residents. “Of course”, I said. “I’d love to sing songs and play my Ukulele with everyone and maybe we could start our own in house choir?”. It was at that moment “The Apple Barrel Bunch Choir” was born! It was also when I became great friends with “My Angel” Judy Mastrony, another “Friendly Visitor” who had been visiting an Apple Rehab resident named Rose for years.
For the next year I visited Guilford Apple Rehab every Monday and for an hour and sang an assortment of fun songs with my choir in their dining room. Lori Spadory, the Activities Director, brought in a bunch of fun musical instruments to pass out so that the residents could play as they sang along. We had tambourines, egg shakers, maracas, bongos, jingle bells and even a guerrero! Music is not only joyous to make but it has to power to transend one into a memory like a time machine would. Every Monday we enjoyed getting to know one another. We laughed, told jokes, shared stories and memories with each other and sang our hearts out! After a few months, we’d gotten to be pretty good and Lori suggested that maybe we could put on a concert performance for the public? Everyone agreed and became very excited about it! One of the residents named Lynne told me that her son Lou played wonderful classical guitar and would play for her when he visited. I asked her to invite him to come on Mondays to our rehearsals and he did. My friend Rich Tortorigi, a drummer and percussionist also came in to jam with us.
The upcoming season was Spring and we discussed songs that we could rehearse to fit the theme. There were a lot of baseball fans in the choir so we learned “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, “New York, New York” and “Sweet Caroline”. Patti Page’s “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window”, “Doris Day’s “Que Sera’ Sera'” and “Sentimental Journey”, “John Denver’s “Follow Me, Johnny Cash’s “You Are My Sunshine” among many others. So, we set a date on the calendar and put out invitations to family and friends, all the volunteers at “GIV”and of course the wonderful Apple Rehab staff members! That was the first of three concerts we did!
It was at that time that Dominic and I began “Wingbeat” (Our husband & Wife Musical Entertainment Duo) and started performing for the residents of Apple Rehab about once a month with one hour long concerts.
In December 2019, we celebrated the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ and learned a whole bunch of joyous Christmas carols! We invited The Shoreline Times newspaper to come out to see us perform and maybe even write an article about us. Staff writer, Lisa Reisman did come and wrote us that wonderful article “Friendly Visiting Program Inspires Silent Woman To Sing” posted on January 3, 2020. (See link to article in our Press Section).
Four months ago, Dominic and I moved down south to Foley, Alabama to pursue “Wingbeat”. Unfortunately, because of Covid 19, I wasn’t able to go into Guilford Apple Rehab to say goodbye to my Apple Barrel Bunch Choir members and all of the residents. I was extremely heartbroken, but the beautiful thing about being a “Friendly Visitor” is that I can still stay in touch with them even from across the country!! I speak on the phone to a few of them every week and Dominic and I record an hour long “Wingbeat” concert from the living room of our home in Foley every month and put it onto a DVD and mail it out to Lori. We figured out that even though all the residents are still quarentined to their rooms, they all have a TV and can turn to channel 2 and watch our show!
During these difficult times, it is VITAL to do our best to “stay connected” to our seriors! About one month ago I was on the phone talking with Judy Mastrony about how much we missed our “Friendly Visiting” at Apple Rehab. How sad we were for them that they were so “isolated, confused and depressed”. Then GOD spoke to me and told me to tell Judy this: “Go to the Dollar Store, buy $70 worth of cheerful blank greeting cards. Go home and hand write a “Thinking of You” inspirational message in each one of them.
Sign it from Paula Ann DeMonico “Remember Me” & Judy Mastrony “Friendly Visitors”. Bring them to Lori at Apple Rehab so she can write each of their names on the envelops and deliver them to their rooms.” Judy did just that! It took her three days to handwrite 70 cards and she also included fun stickers with happy messages like “you are the best”. GOD BLESS Judy for doing such a GOD filled, selfless and beautiful thing!! Judy, with the encouragement of Ann Marie Gunn, emailed Sue Braden or the Shoreline Times, telling her about the “Friendly Visitors’ Thinking of You Cards” that she had just done is hopes that the paper might do a story. Well, to our great joy…They did! Please read the article “A Good Time For A Friendly Visitor” (Link to that article is n our Press Section)
In closing, I’d like to say that my experience singing and performing with The Apple Barrel Bunch Choir is something I will never forget! I will NEVER abandon our seniors or let them feel in any way “forgotten”. My devotion and committemnt to helping improve thier quality of life lives on in me through my continued volunteering in the “Friendly Visiting” program and the “Wingbeat”. Final words…”Stay Strong, Stay Productive, Keep Positive and Count Your Blessings”. GOD BLESS!