Renaissance residents perk up with pizza party

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Myna Bennett, 102, grins to get a hug from volunteer Cora Burgan.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Myna Bennett, 102, grins to get a hug from volunteer Cora Burgan.Every schoolchild knows that pizza day is the best. Senior citizens at Cadia Rehabilitation Renaissance nursing center still love pizza day, thanks to local volunteers and Grotto Pizza.

On pizza day in Millsboro, Oct. 6, there was excitement in the air, from the morning announcements until lunchtime itself, said nurse Jermel Vanderhorst, LPN.

“It’s something different from their regular [day],” Vanderhorst said. “Who doesn’t like pizza?”

Pizza is actually a rarity at Renaissance, staff said, but almost everyone gets a slice.

“It’s such a special day for them. They get to eat Grotto Pizza,” said Emily McIssac, Renaissance activity director, who sees “more smiles on a day like this.”

Cora Burgan, Jane McLaren and Eul Lee regularly visit with Renaissance residents, through the ombudsman program of Delaware Health & Social Services.

Since 2009, they’ve encouraged Grotto Pizza to donate lunch.

“Outside community groups — they really make an impact in nursing homes,” McIssac said. “It doesn’t have to be big like this. Just volunteering in general is helpful.”

Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church paid for part of the cost of the pizza, through the Rock of Ages senior outreach group. They try to ensure seniors have “no unfulfilled needs” at all nursing homes within a 12-mile radius of the church, said leader Elliott Workman. Burgan leads the Rock of Ages team at Renaissance.

Grotto Pizza cooked 20 large cheese pizzas (plus one gluten-free) in Long Neck, with coordination from its location in Bethany Beach. Bethany’s General Manager Sean Golden has known Burgan for a long time, and he’s following in his predecessor’s steps of supporting the pizza parties.

This is part of a corporate mission to “give back to the community that we’ve been in for 50 years,” Golden said.

“The party is put together with the help from the community. It all starts with Grotto Pizza,” Burgan stated.

Students at the Howard T. Ennis School (for those with specialized education needs) baked chocolate brownies and served them to the seniors.

Working as the Happy Café, the students learn life skills and job training, such as assembly line skills. They have cooked for Renaissance seniors many times, baking holiday desserts and prepping cold-cut subs.

“I am a big believer in community service,” said instructor Dawn Ciccanti. Bringing the students to Renaissance makes a good impact on everyone, she said.

“It makes a difference when they can see … the rewards of that effort because it’s a team effort,” Ciccanti said. “I know it make a difference for the students and residents, too. … They both look forward to it.”