“To live is to help others,” Carmelita explained. “You’re a seed. You’re not planting for yourself, you’re planting for others. We all have something to contribute. A seed needs water, fertilizer, sun. Even when a seed is growing, it still needs water and fertilizer, and you need to take care of it. Living is like planting: it’s an investment in the next generation.”
Doing Good in the Neighborhood
Carmelita and her husband moved to Cayuga when she was a young woman and worked as an emergency room nurse at St. Luke’s. “I was the youngest in the neighborhood, now I’m the oldest. Our neighbors were Italian, Irish and Greek; we were the first brown family.”
Though Carmelita and her husband didn’t have children, she always cared for her extended family. In fact, it was during the seven years she cared for her grandniece that she discovered Cayuga Park, the Cayuga Improvement Association (the community organization overseeing the park), and the Cayuga Community Connectors.
“Even before the Connectors, Cayuga was always a good place to live, but it was not as good as today. You didn’t really know the people living down the block. Now I know my neighbors. It’s good to know your neighbors. It’s stimulating, I feel good. The community has finally awakened.”
“Patti (Spaniak, staff of the Cayuga Connectors) is a wonder: her energy, her planning. She brought us to life. She’s the fertilizer; she gives us the tickle that starts us moving.”
On her part, Patti refers to Carmelita as “the grandmother of the community. She’s showing us what it is to age gracefully. She always volunteers and encourages people to take a class, go on the trip, get involved and participate. Last week, she brought 10 cuttings from a plant in her garden to share. She’s always doing things like that.”
Planting Seeds for the Next Generation
At 93, Carmelita uses a cane and is often short of breath. Her family is concerned about her living alone, but Carmelita, who recently opened her house to her goddaughter, is confident that the community will be there to care for her.
Before joining the memoir class meeting in the other end of the community hall, Carmelita revisited the planting analogy, “I like to see myself as a tree still bearing fruit. I’m doing it for the next generations.”
In addition to her involvement with the Community Connectors, Carmelita is active in her church, and, for the past 15 years, has volunteered at the St. Anthony’s lunch program.