BRADENTON — Like clockwork each weekday morning, the six seniors shuffle into their seats at the circular wooden table to play cards.
The game? Crazy Eights.
The prize? Companionship.
The friends fellowship at Daybreak Adult Day Service’s center on 19th Street Court East. The Meals on Wheels PLUS program provides daytime recreational and therapeutic activities and nursing care for adults 60 and older.
The smell of fresh-cut flowers and the sound of 1940s music filled the air in the center this past week as player Don Thompson sat at the card table with the Crazy Eights crew. The 97-year-old Navy veteran is known to take his friends on a run for their money.
But this day someone else was ahead.
“She’s got the lead today,” Thompson said, as he pointed at fellow Navy veteran Mae Whitaker, of Bradenton.
With only two cards left in her hand, Whitaker looked up with humble, bright eyes.
“We all win,” she softly said about her worthy opponents.
“And anybody who wants to sit can play with us,” said Clara Farmer, 87, of Sarasota, who sat beside Whitaker.
The game is just one of a slew of activities at Daybreak, which draws about 65 adults daily, said Roxy Carson, the Adult Day Services manager. The center has a full staff, including a nurse, and its goal, she said, is to keep families together, allowing adults to remain in their homes instead of moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home.
“Many times these individuals live at home with a loved one and cannot be left alone while their caregiver works or attends to household needs,” said Kristen Theisen.
So the program also allows caregivers to work or to simply have time to decompress or take care of household needs, Theisen said.
It’s the only licensed nonprofit adult day center in the county, she said. A secure “memory center” is also on site for adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
There are activities like bean bag, Bible study and bingo. A birthday bash is celebrated the first week of each month. Manasota Memorial Park and Funeral Home in Bradenton donates a cake for those celebrating birthdays.
Sometime local senior singing groups from the community also perform at the center. The group also takes field trips. Last month, they visited AMF Bradenton Lanes to bowl.
Frank Creaturo, who works in a Sarasota art gallery, said he can’t stay home with his 86-year-old mother-in law, May Piazza, so she attends Daybreak.
“She can’t be by herself and we had someone helping her out, but it got way too expensive,” he said.
When he told her about Daybreak, she didn’t want to attend at first.
“She said, ‘I ain’t gonna hang out with them,’ but the first day she was there, she sang, she hung out, talked in Italian to another woman,” Creaturo said.
“She used to get up at 10, now she gets up at 5:30 on her own, lays out her clothes and gets ready to go. That’s how much she loves it. They had a fashion show last Friday, and for a week she talked about what she was gonna wear. She’s already talking about what she wants to wear for Halloween, says we need to take her shopping for a costume. It’s important for them to do something to give them incentive.”
Across the room from the card table, Bradenton resident Merle St. Vincent snipped the stem of a pink miniature rose, then placed it in a small, round glass vase.
“I don’t know the names of them, but I just like to look at them,” said St. Vincent, 84, as activity coordinator Thylla Thomas handed her another flower to add to the arrangement.
Gerbera daisies, lilies, asters and sunflowers are just a few flowers donated to the center by Cortez Floral each Tuesday. After the adults create the masterpieces, their arrangements are placed throughout the room for decoration. Each Friday, they take them home to brighten their homes.
Behind the floral arranging table, Paul Stone and Mary Ayotte sat hunched over at a table sorting out edge pieces of a Bald Eagle jigsaw puzzle.
“I think gremlins got into the box last night,” joked Ayotte, as she matched two pieces together.
The duo said they expected it to take about a week to finish.
“We only get to work about an hour on it,” Stone said, then pointed to a complete puzzle on display in the middle of the room. “We got that one done in about that time.”
“We’ll give it the old college try,” Ayotte said.
When they’re not working on a puzzle, Stone said he likes to socialize with the group playing horseshoes and volleyball — inside.
“We play with a balloon, of course,” he said. “I’ll tell you, I’ve been to several of these over my age and this by far is the most loving group,” Stone said of adult day centers.
His words quickly caught Ayotte’s attention.
“We don’t judge here,” she said.
Back at the card table, Farmer left the game and shuffled toward a black Yamaha piano. She sat down, paused for a short moment, then began to play the “Halls of Montezuma.”
As her fragile fingers rhythmically bounced up and down on the keys, 85-year-old Diane Maddaleno glanced up from a nearby arts and crafts table and began to sing along.
“I like music,” said the retired homemaker from Bradenton. “And I like it here.”