CALIFORNIA – Helen Oreski received a kiss on her cheek by an employee at a Mon Valley senior citizen center while she celebrated her 93rd birthday there last month.
The friendly gesture came as she shared her birthday cake and punch served in champagne glasses with about a dozen others with dementia or just in need of socialization and enrolled in an adult day care center in Center in the Woods in California Borough.
“They better be good pictures,” she said May 6, joking with a photographer whose camera lens was focused on her smiling face. “If it's not a good one, it'll go in the garbage.”
This festive environment was not the scenario first imagined by her daughter and caregiver, Marlene Oreski, after her mother was referred to the program upon being diagnosed two years ago with the disorder that robs people of their short-term memory.
“I dragged my feet for two months,” said Marlene, a retired elementary schoolteacher in the Charleroi Area School District, recalling her reaction to her mother being referred to the center.
A dementia support group leader suggested adult day care for her mother while Marlene immersed herself in researching ways to deal with the situation she faced.
She reached out to the center, and then became nervous and stalled following through on enrolling her mother in the program.
As the days turned into weeks, Marlene said it became a challenge to do such ordinary tasks as mow the lawn at her Carroll Township home or make a trip to the grocery store. Her mother needed her daughter constantly in her vision, and she couldn't be left alone. Still, Marlene debated the recommendation of adult day care for her mother.
“I thought, 'Can I do this to her? Put her on a strange bus with a strange bus driver to a strange place,'” she said. “I decided I'm going to call back and bite the bullet.”
That decision was made in August, two months after she reached out to the support group.
The first day her mother went to the center proved to be the most difficult for Marlene.
“I was like a mother putting her child on the bus for the first time. It broke my heart. I came back in the house and cried.”
To her surprise, however, her mom returned home happy that day.
“When she comes back she is a different person,” Marlene said.
Helen doesn't remember what she does at the center, activities that include visits with children, completing art projects or performing light exercise.
She does, though, remember the days that she is supposed to board the bus to travel to the center, where she spends three days a week.
Marlene said she now regrets waiting two months to sign her mother up for the services the center provides.
“When I walked in the main door, the staff, they were absolutely wonderful. My mom just fit in.”
Marlene said the demands of dealing with a relative with dementia made her worry at first if the stress would affect her health. The center affords her a break from the responsibility of caring for her mother, she said.
“It's taken a load off of my shoulders. I know she is in a warm, safe and caring environment.”
Clockwise, from upper left, Jacky Donkers, program coordinator for the adult day care at Center in the Woods, California, escorts Helen Oreski to the table so she can blow out the candles on her birthday cake. Helen celebrated her 93rd birthday May 6 at the day care.
Helen blows out the candles on her birthday cake.
Helen reads a letter from state Rep. Peter Daley, D-49th District, with the help of her friend, Linda Yetsconish, during her 93rd birthday celebration.
Observer-Reporter Photos by Jim McNutt
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Jacky Donkers, right, program coordinator for the Adult Daycare at the Center in the Woods escorts Helen Oreski to the table so she can blowout the candles on her birthday cake. Helen celebrated her 93rd birthday May 6th with seniors in the daycare at the Center in the Woods Senior Center in California.
Helen Oreski , left, reads a letter from legislator, Peter Daly, with the help of her friend, Linda Yetsconish, during a celebration of Helen's 93rd birthday May 6th with seniors at the senior day in the Center in the Woods Senior Center in California.
Seniors at the adult daycare in the Center in the Woods share birthday cake and punch in honor of Helen Oreski 93rd birthday May 6th at the Center in the Woods Senior Center in California.
Judy Shwallon, left, assistant program director for the senior daycare at the Center in the Woods, gives a smiling Helen Oreski a hug as she celebrates her 93rd birthday May 6th with seniors at the Center in the Woods Senior Center in California.
Judy Shwallon, left, assistant program director for the senior daycare, laughs with Helen Oreski over a joke from another senior as Helen celebrated her 93rd birthday May 6th with seniors at the Center in the Woods Senior Center in California. Helen’s story, along with the stories of other adult daycare centers, appears on Page B1.
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