By Amy Wenk
Pearl Hacker, a 97-year-old resident of The William Breman Jewish Home on Howell Mill Road in Buckhead, made sure on April 2 to wear her knit sweater with the cute cats.
“I always dress for the occasion,” said Hacker, who was born in 1914 and raised on a 100-acre farm in New Jersey.
The occasion she was referring to is the once-a-month Playgroup with a Purpose, held that day at 11:30 a.m. in the fourth floor garden room at the Breman Jewish Home. The afternoon activity invites senior residents to sing and play with mothers and their babies.
“It’s wonderful to see the little children,” Hacker said. “They are precious. The mothers are very nice, too.”
Play groups are a social pastime for many mothers with young children. But adding another generation is a twist.
“Everyone needs their baby fix,” said Shauna Horvath, volunteer director for the Breman Jewish Home and songmaster for the Playgroup with a Purpose.
During the play group, mothers and children sit on a large blue rug sprinkled with toys. Seniors, many in wheelchairs, sit in a circle around them.
Horvath leads a sing-a-long of familiar tunes like “Twinkle, twinkle little star” as well as traditional Jewish songs.
“I get paid to do this,” said Horvath, a former teacher at The Epstein School in Sandy Springs. “I love it.”
Harley Tabak, the chief executive officer of the Breman Jewish Home, sits beside Horvath, strumming the melodies on his guitar.
“We call him the singing CEO,” Horvath said. “Women swoon over him. We’re all his groupies.”
After the songs, mothers walk around and encourage interaction between the children and the senior citizens.
“I enjoy getting to see Drew interact with the older people,” said Cara Hanin at the April 2 play group. Her son Drew is nine months old. “His grandparents don’t live here.”
Playgroup with a Purpose was started by Sandy Springs resident Sara Kogon, who has served on the board of directors for the Breman Jewish Home since about 2004.
When she had her daughter Marion two-and-a-half years ago, she said she wanted more activities to do with her child. She talked with Horvath about a play group at the Breman Jewish Home and soon it became a regular event.
“It kind of came together on its own,” Horvath said. “It keeps growing and growing. I never know what to expect.”
Kogon and other parents stay in touch via e-mail, and mothers involved with the group often “pick up” new participants at places like the park.
Kogon said the group has a special place in her heart. Her husband Ross’s grandfather Gerald was a resident of the Breman Jewish Home before he died in February 2009.
“One of the last … memories I have of [Gerald] is this play group,” Kogon said. “Shortly after that he went to hospice.”
When her son was born in December 2009, she named him Gerald.
Now baby Gerald plays on the blue rug in the place that his great-grandfather used to watch and smile at youngsters like him.
The senior residents “say we are doing something for them, but we’re really thinking they are doing so much more for us,” Kogon said.
Another parent Melanie Levs shared that sentiment.
“It’s such a wonderful idea to bring the generations together,” said Levs, who brought her two sons Ryan, 3 ½, and Jordan, almost five months old, to the April 2 play group. “I like them to be exposed more to older people … I want them to know how much fun it is to interact with people who have all that life experience.”
For more information about the Playgroup with Purpose, email Shauna Horvath at email@example.com. The next playgroup will be held Sunday, May 2.