It was a Valentine’s Day to remember for more than 150 aging Gainesville area residents who marked the day with love and friendship — and plenty of dancing — at the first Touching Hearts at Home Senior Prom.
The Village at Gainesville, a residential community for the elderly, and Touching Hearts at Home, a home health care agency, joined forces to create a day of dance, music, and celebration at the Alachua County Senior Center.
Christina Ramos, executive director of Touching Hearts at Home and event organizer, said she first got the idea as a way to honor her grandmother, Rita Noa, 83. Noa suffers from Alzheimer’s and Ramos remembered how much her Nana enjoyed a dance she once attended at Al’z Place, an adult daycare center.
“We want to recreate something that was a special moment for her,” Ramos said. “She won’t join us in person but she will be there in spirit.”
The two-hour event featured dancing, entertainment a costume contest and plenty of other offerings including Valentine’s Day cupcakes, chocolates, and other treats. Harking back to high school days, a group of volunteers chose a prom king and queen crowned by Gainesville City Commissioner Ed Book.
For King and Queen Gary and Carol Cook it’s love the second time around. They have been married 20 years.
“Winning today was a very positive thing for us,” said Carol, after the two took a time out for dancing.
“We met on at the Stop Children’s Cancer benefit,” Carol said.
“Dancing, on the dance floor,” added Gary, a retired lieutenant commander in the Navy. “I saw this lovely lady and said I’m going to dance with her.”
And they’re still dancing.
Local entertainer Mark Raisch sang with offerings of swing, soul, and rock n’ roll. Southern Gem photo booth gave attendees a chance to take pictures of themselves, and there were plenty of (Hershey’s) kisses to go around.
With February being heart month, Ramos said it was appropriate for the event to serve as a benefit for the American Heart Association, as well as Elder Care of Alachua County. In addition to Touching Hearts at Home and the Village at Gainesville, others contributing to the event include HUMANA, Haven Hospice, Loly’s Event & Decor, Southern Gem PhotoBooth, and The Windsor of Gainesville. Members of the University of Florida’s Dance Marathon group made valentines.
“Judging from the laughter and smiles of those who were there, the event was a success,” Ramos said. “The purpose of this Valentine’s Day Senior Prom is to offer more seniors in our community the opportunity to dress up, get excited, and come have a ball with other seniors! We want to make them smile and let them know that they are loved and this community cares about them.”