My Second Home Intern Raises Money and Brings Creativity and Technology to Benefit Older Adults

1/15/12

                When Christy Ruvituso, a Westchester mother of three teen-aged girls, decided to get a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Fordham University, little did she know that she would soon be implementing innovative programming at My Second Home, FSW’s intergenerational adult day program.  My Second Home shares an innovative facility with Mount Kisco Child Care Center, and the participants from both programs interact three times a day, through music, gardening, dance, and arts and crafts.  Christy had heard from Fordham faculty members that My Second Home would be an ideal internship placement. When she met Director Rina Bellamy at a statewide intergenerational meeting, the two women instantly connected.    

                In September 2010, Christy began her first internship with Margaret DeRose, a Social Worker at MSH who encouraged Christy’s efforts to initiate therapy sessions with high-functioning participants. Christy was so impressed with the program that she created a video using iMovie on her Apple computer depicting what she calls “the magic of the intergenerational approach.”  The movie was shown to scientists at the American Society of Aging National Conference in 2011, when Rina Bellamy and Dottie Jordan, Director of Mount Kisco Child Care Center, won the organization’s Mind Alert Award for their intergenerational program. 

Christy began a second internship at My Second Home this year, working with Rina and  reaching out to caregivers and families, helping them become educated about Alzheimer’s disease and their advocacy role. One characteristic that has made Christy such a stand-out intern and team member is her ability to see the need for a change and then find a way to make it happen, notes Rina.  For instance, when she saw the drivers rifling through the medical records of the participants they pick up, she thought they needed iPads so they could access any information they needed electronically. Christy held a holiday gift sale in her home and raised $5,000, enough money to purchase six iPads for the drivers. “The old approach was such a waste of paper and cumbersome for the drivers,” notes Christy.

                When Christy discovered through her academic research that older adults are more likely to remember information when they see a visual that reinforces written material, she created a “News Update” program on her iPad, using newspaper headlines and graphics she could discuss with My Second Home participants. She created another program called “America through the Decades,” which pairs historical information about a time period with easily identifiable photos from that era.
“Participants will see photos from a particular decade, and say ‘I remember that.’  It’s exciting. Even people who don’t often speak up will have that recall and become interested in the conversation,” she notes.  At a recent “News Update” presentation, Christy roamed the room Oprah-like and informed the dozen participants present about the news of the day. She also shared stories about the careers of songwriter Irving Berlin, who wrote “God Bless America,” and Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who believes his prayer huddles with teammates have led to the team’s last-minute victories. Christy’s background and training in advertising sales make her a natural at public speaking and advocacy work.

                Christy’s latest efforts involve selling tickets and finding auction items for a fundraising dinner for My Second Home called La Dolce Vita. She and her husband, Stephen Ruvituso, are co-chairing the event, which will honor loyal supporters of MSH, Cassie and Frank Kernan.  Designed to raise money for participant scholarships, the dinner is already more than half sold even though the invitations have yet to be mailed. Christy has brought her hallmark energy and enthusiasm to the task of seeing that the dinner succeeds, lining up such exciting auction items as batting practice with Mets’ star David Wright and a private plane ride for two to Martha’s Vineyard.

                “Christy brings hope, compassion, joy, a sharp intellect and a desire to serve every time she walks through the doors of My Second Home,” says Rina Bellamy. “Christy is a change agent, and we are so blessed and grateful that she is sharing her passion for helping older adults with us at My Second Home.”

Christy’s involvement with FSW’s intergenerational program has become a family affair. Her three daughters often volunteer there on the weekends; they even created their own MSH iPad program around the holidays called “Christmas Movie Trivia.” Her husband is working alongside Christy championing the dinner and soliciting auction items from his friends and colleagues. “He is equally involved,” notes Christy.

Interestingly, Christy’s own volunteer efforts began when she attended Dominican Academy in Manhattan, when she helped out at a nursing home during her senior year.  Her grandmother developed Alzheimer’s and observing her mental decline was a catalyst for Christy’s interest in helping older adults.  “There is not enough education about Alzheimer’s, and research into the disease is so underfunded,” notes Christy.  “Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in this country and yet so few dollars are allocated for finding a cure or promoting prevention of this epidemic. If we had more early intervention through intergenerational programs like My Second Home, nursing home placement would decrease,” she notes. 
                 Christy is set to finish her Master’s Degree in Social Work in May and would like to continue her work with older adults. “I am really enthusiastic about the work at My Second Home,’’ notes Christy, who credits Director Rina Bellamy with encouraging her ideas and creating a supportive work environment.  “Rina is so gracious, and really every individual who works here is special.”