Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sashaying Under the Stars in a Moonlit Parking Lot

Kathy Vargas of Rochester Hills got decked out
in party gear for the Island Party.
The moon was full, the air was warm and I was wrapped in the arms of my dance partner, Ralph, when the silky lyrics of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On" started spilling out of the speakers.

"Just loosen up your knees a bit, and try to feel the music," Ralph said as I attempted to sway with him along the asphalt parking lot of the Older Persons' Commission in Rochester.

My evening volunteering at the Island Party, (not Luau), was full of wild costumes, line dancing, and even a blue mermaid. Seniors danced to classic favorites like Elvis and Jimmy Buffet. They rocked out to Funky Cold Medina and the latest hits by Lady Gaga. More than 300 people attended the event, proving the old adage that age truly is a state of mind.

When I arrived on the island, I was pleasantly surprised by the careful detail put into the ambiance. Tables were decorated with candles and leis. A DJ was setting the mood with Beach Boy hits, and well-organized lines of people were loading up on island-themed food of pulled-pork sandwiches, fresh fruits and pastas. I assisted in the food line and helped load up and deliver a plate to one woman who had a bandaged arm. After that, we cleaned the area and served refreshments — a frozen concoction of pineapple, orange and banana mix served with festive umbrellas.

The event was not just a big party though, it was also a way for the OPC to make much-needed money. Because the commission is millage funded, and home values have continued to decline, the OPC has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Recently, the community overwhelmingly passed a millage increase — 2,073 to 423 — and that, says OPC Executive Director Marye Miller, says a lot.

"I'm a strong believer in seniors having their own facility," Miller said, adding that even though funds are down, she will not see the OPC lose a program or service. And while many people look at the OPC as a fun place to hang out, it offers more. Medical care is available at the OPC, and the commission offers adult daycare for patients with Alzheimer's disease among many of its programs.

"There's a lot of work to keep older people living with dignity in their home," she said. "The staff is so dedicated, even though they haven't had a raise in three years."

The staff also seems to love what they do. I worked alongside Rhonda Nelson, who coordinated the festivities, as well as Meg Baker, who had contacted me about volunteering. There were more than fifty volunteers at the event. The Rochester Adams High School football team helped set up the tables and chairs during the day and came back to help pick it all back up around nine-thirty that night. The Rochester Junior Woman's Club (yes, it's Woman's) were on hand helping from set-up to serving food.

The OPC is unlike any senior facility I have visited. It's a whole hip community. Women wore thigh-high skirts, and sparkly heels as they sauntered in the conga line.

"Yes, that's sexy! I like that!" the Austin Power-like DJ crooned out as men and women dipped and bended to get under the bamboo pole.

As the sun settled in for the night, I took my turn on the sidelines, and watched Ralph dance with another woman as other couples held each other tight, and I thought about how lucky I was to be a part of it all.

The Older Persons' Commission is always looking for volunteers for it's services and events. Check out the website at


  1. We had sooo very much fun at the Island Party and look forward to th Fall picnic coming up at Bloomer Park....Maureen Harte & Leonard Dudzinski

  2. Thanks for the comment. It was a great time! Enjoy the picnic!

  3. Legacy of America posted all of your photos here:!/album.php?aid=163101&id=38056752705

    We had so much fun!