Words by Andrea Westerlund
Photos by Michelle Carlson
Tamika Turner founded Adopt a Grandparent in 2014, but her story starts before that. In a West Philadelphia neighborhood that took collective responsibility for raising up the children, Tamika spent her formative years with her grandparents.
“My grandfather was always one to tell it like it is – no filter,” she explains. “Grandma was laid back, but deeply spiritual. People underestimated her strength because of her kindness.”
It was this love of her grandparents – and a desire to continue their legacy – that, in part, inspired Tamika to found Adopt a Grandparent, a nonprofit that provides seniors in assisted living facilities with gifts at the holidays, as well as other surprises and treats throughout the year.
It was during one of these pamper sessions that I met Barb and Olga, residents of the Legacy at Clover Blossom assisted living facilities and recipients of some Adopt a Grandparent -sponsored hand facials.
What’s your favorite smell in Rochester?
Both [in unison]: The lilacs.
Olga: Or the magnolias on Park Avenue.
What about your favorite taste?
Barb: Probably the wines. You’re known for your wines up here, and we’ve come across some wonderful ones that we enjoy.
Olga: I love Abbott’s ice cream.
Barb: I’ll also add Wegmans. There are so many tastes there. My husband and I fell in love with Wegmans.
Do you have a favorite sight and sound?
Olga: The Memorial Art Gallery or the lake
Barb: Definitely the lakes. I was also thinking of the Erie Canal.
Olga: You’re going to laugh at this but, “Go Bills!”
Finally, what’s your favorite Rochester feeling?
Barb: I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but what always struck us was that cold wind coming off the lake. It can be brutal, and it serves as a reminder to us that we’re in a cold area of New York State. That’s something I’ll never get used to.
The women didn’t stop reminiscing when my questions were finished. They shared favorite restaurants – Castaways and Olives – and bittersweet memories. It might be those memories that hold the most value, especially for an organization like Adopt a Grandparent and someone like Tamika.
“I remember the sight of the lights in the Lincoln Tunnel when my grandfather was teaching me to drive,” remembers Tamika. “He had a light blue Caprice Classic.”
She also recalls the taste of fresh nectarines and plums from the Rochester Public Market and Frank’s Pineapple Soda. She laughs and asks if I remember the soda. I don’t, but I’m glad she does.
“My grandparents were divorced, but they never remarried,” she explains. “My grandmother had this way of calling you out but in a loving way.”
Something tells me I would not have wanted to be called out by Tamika’s grandma, but I would like her potato roll recipe, an heirloom lost to the past, even for Tamika. But there’s no shortage of recipes or grandparents in her life thanks to Adopt a Grandparent.
The organization focuses on demonstrating care to local seniors who have “little to no family.” Those seniors who’d like nothing more than a visit get just that and more. From gifts to small events, Tamika works with area nursing homes to make sure that all residents feel cared for and loved.
The grandparents aren’t the only winners though. Through her generosity, Tamika gets the opportunity to honor her own grandparents (both who have passed), as well as adopt dozens of new grandparents every year. She also looks for opportunities to connect young people with the seniors to foster cross-generational relationships like the ones she had growing up.
Adopt a Grandparent is always looking for volunteers to help pack and deliver gifts to area nursing homes. If you’d like to find out more, please go to aagproc.org.