Photos by Meg Hibbert
Stella Agee always wanted to visit Disney World but didn’t get the chance until she was 89. That’s when she got to dance with Mickey Mouse, at a ‘Disney Dreams’ gala party at the Joseph C. Thomas Center.
“I danced with him and I would again, if he asked me,” a beaming Agee said at the end of an exciting evening filled with enchanted princesses, a splendid three tiered cake and fireworks. Many of the 85 residents danced with members of the Glenvar High School Football Team and piano student volunteers, to live music as well as a DJ playing favorite 1960s tunes, and more.
The April 28 event was inspired in part by Agee’s wish on her bucket list. “She didn’t have children so she didn’t get to go to Disney World,” JCT Life Enrichment Coordinator Bev Adams explained. So Adams brought Disney World to her residents, starting with a Lego version of Cinderella’s castle in the lobby.
Others with a particular fondness for all things Disney who contributed to the atmosphere included resident Ann Zambacca and her daughter, Christy Archer, who donated almost $800 of her extensive Disney memorabilia for the event on April 28.
Characters dressed as Beauty and Beast were there, as well as Peter Pan with Tinker Bell, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Cinderella, Ariel, Jasmine and Aladdin. The evil Maleficent was there, too. Receptionist Mitzi Janney was a beautifully made up Snow White.
Adams’ piano student Michaela Robertson, who is a Patrick Henry and Governor’s School student, transformed into Tinker Bell, with green gossamer wings.
The stars of the evening were the senior citizens who live in JCT, though. They danced, clapped, sang along to favorite songs from the 1960s played by a DJ, and thoroughly enjoyed the young people.
Resident Jo Ann Hale coquettishly held carnations in her teeth. “I love to see them so happy,” said Julia Byrd, who works part time as a receptionist, and that night was volunteering on her 19th birthday weekend.
Glenvar Football Coach Kevin Clifford brought 20 of his players. Many have come several times during the year and before, to spend time with JCT residents and liven up their parties. Tyler Beckner and Jack Leonard carefully held their 80-something partners. Nathaniel St. Clair danced with resident Edie Yee in her chair.
The young men sang along to music, clapped and danced in a tight circle in front of the fireplace. They were surrounded by residents and families, volunteers and staff. Adams and Patrick Jenkins, one of the head dietary cooks, made up the DJ’s play list about six months ago, she said, and the crowd loved her choices.
“I need a bigger building, if we get crowds like this. People are spreading out in other rooms. We just don’t have the space in the front room,” said Bev Adams.
“I think it’s my favorite party” of all the spring galas JCT has held each spring, said Katie Jones, JCT Director. The evening started out with a resident royal court four-course candlelit dinner, while Tom Adams played piano music at a baby grand topped by the famous candelabra character from the Disney animated movie, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Later a four-tiered cake topped with Minnie Mouse’s polka-dot bow and mouse ears was unveiled, surrounded by individual strawberry shortcakes, strawberries skewered to look like Mickey’s bow tie, and nearby, a cantaloupe with Mickey ears.
Residents wore formal black, white and red outfits – the colors of Mickey and Minnie – as well as bright, shiny dresses and colorful shirts. Staff and volunteers from United Healthcare had helped them choose their outfits and get ready.
United Healthcare volunteers who worked with memory care residents as part of a volunteer project their class chooses each year did a bake sale last month and raised $500 toward the party “for dresses and other things,” Vanessa Ervin of Roanoke, said.
She and others came over to JCT earlier in the day to do fingernails and makeup earlier that day. “I stayed because I’m having such a good time,” Ervin said. “Some of the ladies and I bonded and I wanted to see them dressed up.”
“We’re having a great time,” added Radford nursing student Heather Cowan. “We are doing some community service work as part of our gerontology course,” she explained.
Meanwhile, Disney-type characters were mingling with delighted residents. “I love the traditional gown,” said Glenvar High School sophomore Olivia Nicholson, another JCT volunteer. She was referring to the yellow full-circle dress she wore as Beauty that evening. Little girls all over have grown up with that image of Beauty from the Disney animated version and now, the movie released earlier this spring.
At a “Bibbidie Bobbidi” photo station, people could take selfies and more. When resident Lola Hicks was asked what she thought about the evening, she told daughter Linda Curd, “I’m having a good time.”