With the assistance of staff members at the assisted living facility, the celebration was organized entirely by Grace Manor’s residents.
Residents of Grace Manor assisted living facility organized their own Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Monday, with the assistance of staff members throughout the organization.
With the help of executive director Sheryl Vitelli and activity director Paige Hicks, the event first came to fruition through a casual conversation over lunch between residents Brenda Thompson and Eleanor Gaston, two of Grace Manor’s African American residents that strongly felt the importance of holding the facility’s first MLK Day celebration. After some brainstorming, Gaston began organizing the event while Thompson reached out to Elder Larry Sykes, a pastor at Greater St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Plant City for the past 19 years who agreed to join in on the celebration.
“We welcome you to us on this special day because it’s a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.,” Thompson said. “It’s an honor to recognize his efforts for freedom on this national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.”
The event filled the room with residents as Thompson greeted all those in attendance, followed by an opening prayer from fellow resident Martin Rollyson. As Gaston shared her feelings on the day’s importance and Sykes gave a brief sermon on the importance of spreading love, especially on days of such vital remembrance such as MLK Day, St. Luke’s choir — known as their praise team — filled the facility with song.
“Martin Luther King Jr. fought for freedom and equality for everybody and it has taken generations to try and live up to those ideals,” Gaston said. “Freedom and equality carries a heavy price tag that millions of Americans have paid for again and again, with toil, faith and blood. The old saying, ‘freedom isn’t free,’ is very evident in the ongoing struggle for all Americans. We have a great hero who has paved a way for greater freedom for all and today we present a tribute to one of the important milestones, one that we will always remember because he did so much in advancing the cause of equality and justice. Today we celebrate the national holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Having met him on two different occasions, and even having him for dinner at my house, I can truly say that he was a great man.”
In addition to the inaugural MLK Day celebration, Thompson and Gaston announced that they will also be holding a Black History Month celebration at Grace Manor next month on Feb. 28.
“Eleanor and I eat lunch together and that is how this program came about, with brainstorming and thinking about what we could do,” Thompson said. “And it couldn’t have happened without Reverend Sykes and Mrs. Sykes. Both of them were here,
they came and we had a planning meeting and that’s how all of this got started and this is only the first because we’re going to have another event next month for Black History Month. Now if you think that this event is something, you just wait and see. It’s going to be great.”