Staff at Saint Antoine Community dedicated to making senior residents feel at home at Christmas time

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NORTH SMITHFIELD — Stockings are hung, ornaments adorn the trees — it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Saint Antoine Community. Staff member Jimmy plays a familiar carol on his harmonica as he walks by, finishing the last note and putting it back in his shirt pocket. The sights and sounds of Advent are everywhere at the local diocesan nursing and assisted living facilities, where staff work tirelessly to make it feel like home — especially around Christmas.

With countless holiday happenings such as a trip to see the Christmas Festival of Lights at La Salette Shrine, wreath decorating, a visit from Girl Scout carolers and local choirs — the activities are endless at both The Villa and The Residence.

“This is the month of entertainment,” said Jennifer Staton, director of activities and volunteers at Saint Antoine Residence.

In her office, Staton is surrounded by gift bags, rolls of wrapping paper and chocolates wrapped with bows.

“I love it,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like work.”

She explained that sometimes Christmas can be tough, an emotional time mixed with cherished traditions and memories of loved ones who have passed away.

“You see them get emotional when they hear the Christmas carols like, ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas.’ You can tell they miss it,” said Staton. “On the flip side, when ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ comes on they are up dancing, even dancing in wheelchairs.”

Yvette, a resident, enjoys a cookie as she visits with Kristen Conley, director of activities at The Villa — just like old friends.

Yvette is celebrating her second Christmas at The Villa. She moved in a few days before the holiday last year and shared that she felt right at home. She is known for going on all of the outings and participating in the activities, always making everyone laugh.

“It’s so nice to have a laugh. I love it here, I love it at Christmas, and I really love all of you,” she said to the staff.

April Paniccia, director of Social Services, said that regardless of whether their visit is short-term or long-term, each resident receives a personalized Christmas gift.

“If it’s clothes — it’s something that is purchased just for them in their size. It’s a very home-like atmosphere, decorated with personal touches. We really feel that this is their home and we work in it.”

The glow of Christmas trees warm the many common spaces that residents and families can reserve at no cost.

“It is a great option so that grandma and grandpa can be included in holiday events and they don’t have to go out in bad weather,” said Isabel Pestana, director of Marketing and Public Relations. “It’s a lot of joy and preparation. We really strive to make it feel like home.”

Pestana shared that decorations begin to go up the day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas bulbs glow until after Epiphany, following an annual visit from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who offers blessings and shares prayer cards with the residents. The true meaning of Christmas is ever present at Saint Antoine, in the crèche displays and in daily Mass celebrated for those residents who wish to take part.

As everyone at Saint Antoine Community plays their part in making the holidays special for those who they care for each day, Pestana shared a reminder that the true essence of Christmas is celebrated when you are surrounded by friends and family.

“We work to bring back simple, at home traditions by coming together and filling those in-between moments with purpose,” she said. “Christmas is always best when it is shared. That’s what creates the magic.”