As soon as swing-dance instructor Frank Morra took the microphone and the Tom Cunningham Orchestra began to play, Lillie Mae Whitner, Enoch Reid and Sammy Davis Jr. were on their feet and headed to the dance floor.
There, with partners less than half their age, they got a refresher course in the dances that were familiar to them more than 50 years ago.
"I love it," said Whitner, 71, who was wearing a kelly green dress and appeared to be having a wonderful time.
Her praise was meant for the dancing and also for Christian Communities Group Homes, the organization that sponsored the dance. The event, "Thank the Generation That Brought You Swing," was a recent fund-raiser to support three group homes that Christian Communities operates in Northeast Washington for homeless and financially distressed seniors.
"I love all the ladies and the wonderful people who work there," she said.
Whitner, Davis, 67, and Reid, 76, are among the 19 people who now live in the three homes. Residents are selected based on recommendations from District shelters and the D.C. Office on Aging.
The program, created through the efforts of 10 city churches and funded by the Office on Aging, the United Way and private foundations, accepted its first residents in 1981. More than a roof over their heads, it gives seniors the personal attention that a nursing home or shelter can't necessarily provide, its sponsors say.
"I think of [Reid] as my special resident," said Algetha Quander, 86, a founding member of Christian Communities. "He was retarded; his father died; he had no family. He couldn't talk when he came to us, and now he can talk."
Basic care for residents is provided by a director, an activities coordinator and a full-time counselor. The organization also relies on two dozen board members and many more volunteers drawn from schools, youth groups and churches.
The three homes, all on 18th Street NE, have taken in more than 75 residents since the program started.
"We're not a nursing home," said Roxanne Ando, a lawyer who quit her government job 10 years ago to become the group's director. "We have to broker their care because they don't have any family."
In addition to meals and lodging, Christian Communities provides its residents with financial representation, takes them to their medical appointments and helps them with other personal needs. The staff and volunteers offer friendship and create a family atmosphere that many of these seniors otherwise wouldn't have.
Tomiko Mason, 7, Ando's daughter, said she enjoys going to the homes to play bingo and other games and to do artwork with the seniors. At the swing dance fund-raiser July 31 at Catholic University's law school, she spent a lot of time dancing and talking with the residents and board members--who have become part of her extended family.
"Both my kids love them as grandparents," said Yvonne Turner, the group's residential counselor. "You can see when we have our children there how the senior citizens smile."
Each day, Turner visits all three houses to assist with cooking, cleaning, making doctor appointments and making sure Medicaid and Social Security forms are properly filled out.
The three homes, which will undergo renovations this fall, are Pleasant Hill, a D.C.-licensed assisted-living home for eight; Harmony House, an independent group home for six; and House of Togetherness, an intergenerational group home for five seniors and younger adults.
Residents will stay in temporary housing while the District, which owns the properties, upgrades their cooling, heating, electrical and plumbing systems. Accommodations for the disabled also will be added, and the garages will be converted into multipurpose rooms and offices.
Since 1994, as a way of reaching out to seniors, Christian Communities also has operated a program that encourages more intergenerational relationships. Volunteers for the organization visit the homes of elderly residents in the community to help them with such maintenance chores as painting, repairs and yardwork.
CAPTION: Deborah O'Fallon, 28, dances with Christian Community Group Homes resident Sammy Davis Jr., 67, during the dance class portion of the night.
CAPTION: Left, members of the Tom Cunningham Orchestra play. Below, Yvonne Turner, the group's residential counselor, twirls Christian Community Group Homes resident Lillie Mae Whitner, 71.
CAPTION: The Tom Cunningham Orchestra performs for the seniors and others gathered for the "Thank the Generation That Brought You Swing" fund-raiser.