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Fourth-graders from Gabriel Abbott Memorial School helped serve and cleanup at the annual Christmas party.

Volunteers Support Senior Citizens in the Town of Florida

By Kathy KeeserSpecial to iBerkshires
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Writer's Note: As I continue to find and write about volunteers around our area, the Councils on Aging seem a great place for volunteers, and Florida COA Chairwoman Fran Bedini contacted me to do an article. Look for more stories about volunteers, they are so important to all of use. If you know of a volunteer or a group of volunteers, contact To sign up as a volunteer or to post volunteer jobs, go to

Mae Embry and Al Bedini play tunes for the party.
FLORIDA, Mass. — From the planner and servers to the Christmas tree, it was volunteers of all ages who pulled off a successful 11th annual holiday party recently for the more than 80 residents, mostly senior citizens. 

Al Bedini Jr., Mike Belcher, Jana Brule and Terry Rysz once again took care of final prep and serving of the meal. The Rev. Roy Burdick was on hand to say blessings, greet town residents and, of course, joke around a bit here and there. Local photographer Henry Bounds captured the smiling faces and all the fun everyone was having for the COA's records. Ana Gentes once again donned her Christmas tree garb, and told the story of the origin of jingle bells as she passed chiming samples to the crowd.

Sam Pierce, Brody Little, Bryce Little, Hailey Miller, Thomas Keeler, Ray Drummond, Tyler Packard, and Patti Charron (Gabriel Abbott School 4th-graders), along with their teacher Lori Austin and classroom aide Mel Medan, delivered drinks and desserts, led the singing of carols, cleared tables, and help with other tasks as needed.

Patti liked donating her time because "it reminds me of my grandmother, Eleanor Miller, who passed away, and this is fun remembering her." Brody added that "it is a great opportunity to help people, and it is fun especially to help older people."

But the Florida Council on Aging is more than just the annual holiday party, though this is one of its highlights of the year. In fact COA is a lot more with 38 volunteers logging 1,170 hours this past year, according to COA Director Donna Hartlage.  

Clockwise: Fran and Al Bedini are dressed for Christmas; COA Director Donna Hartlage, left, and Margo Van Peterson; Anna Gentes goes evergreen; Henry Bounds on the other side of the camera.

"The council was formed in 2000, because we felt that we didn't have a lot for seniors up here and my dream was to have a senior center where people would have a time to meet people besides when they go to vote, which is one of the main social occasions when you see other people in Florida," said co-Chairwoman Fran Bedini.

Bedini said the council offers plenty of programs, with people even driving up from North Adams to join.

"We have the new fitness center downstairs and we have special programs like gentle movement led by Adams resident and volunteer Maryanne Kufs, and fitness led by Jane Jezouiz, a certified fitness trainer," she said. "I enjoy seeing everyone come together and have a good time. We are open three days a week with lots to do, so there is no reason for local residents to just stay home and watch TV."

Mae Emby, who often shares her musical talents at the COA, Florida Baptist Church and other venues, is also known as the "Hallmark Lady" since she is in charge of sending out greeting cards to town seniors for birthdays, anniversaries, sympathy, and get well. 

Emby's partner in playing the organ at the church, Priscilla Brayman (they trade off weeks to play) said, "it is interesting going to the meetings, socializing and finding out who needs help and what we can do. Donna does a fabulous job with the planning, but we help and support the work and put on some of the special activities."

Not all COA members are retired. Margo Van Peterson, co-chairman this year, has been on the council for a number of years because she loves the town and especially loves being with the senior population. 

"These seniors have been the wheels that have turned the town of Florida for years, but many can't do as much anymore, and I want to contribute back to them and to the community," she said.

Thanks to Fran Bedini, Margo Van Peterson, Mae Embry, Joyce Van Tilborg, Barbara Newman, Ruth Boyce, Sue Davis, Judy Poirit, Donna Guessing, Judy St. Jacques, Ella Tower, Kathy Ballon, Linda Burdick, the Friends of the COA and all other volunteers who supported this event and other COA events. 

The COA is looking for someone of any age who has time to volunteer about two hours a week to help clean up the Senior Center. Contact Hartlage at 413-662-2811 on Monday, Wednesday or Friday or email her at

"There are so many places that need volunteers like COAs and nursing homes, where you can bring some real joy to people," said Bedini. "You don't have to give your life [to be a volunteer] but give whatever time you have." Embry added, "it is a wonderful gift to give of yourself!"

Tags: COA,   volunteers,   

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