BY MAHADEV DESAI
Pics: Vinod Karia
The Senior Citizen Program (SCP) recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, evolving from a small, 20- member organization of seniors/elders into Georgia’s most vibrant with more than 500 robust members. SCP started in 1996, the year of Atlanta Olympics.
“At the time, only a handful of elders would attend. Today, we are celebrating our 15th Anniversary, averaging approximately an event per month for these past 15 years - that’s over 150 events. It's amazing to look back 15 years ago and to realize the incredible growth SCP has experienced in both membership and capabilities. While the possibilities for the future are endless, one thing is certain, SCP will always be evolving and we look forward to what the next 15 years would bring. This is all possible because of the generosity of our sponsors, numerous donors/restaurants and selfless and dedicated service of our Volunteers," said Raj Razdan, Founding-Executive Director of SCP.
“In the years past, we have seen many different lifestyles of senior citizens, both positive and negative. The one constant we notice is that when a senior citizen smiles, he or she, is happy and satisfied. The success and flourishing of the 15 years of the Senior Citizen Program (SCP) has shown how monthly SCP programs help make the lives of elderly people both pleasant and fulfilling,” said one of the life-time sponsor Surinder Malhotra
The 15th Anniversary gala was indeed an incredible affair with over 300 seniors, pretty much, managing their own event at the Comfort Inn Banquet Hall. The occasion was sponsored by Suren & Leena Shah & Family (Owners of the Comfort Inn), Jeewan & Arvan Singhal and Dr. Brajinder & Shashi Singh). Consul General of India in Atlanta, Hon. Ajit Kumar, Former Atlanta Councilman Hon. Greg Pridgeon, Chief of Staff of Rockdale County, dignitaries, media and many community leaders graced the event.
The joyous celebrations began with the cutting of the beautiful 15th Anniversary Cake by beloved and respected mother-figures and role models Lilyben Desai, Shanti Nanda and Sushila Gupta, followed with the glitzy entertainment program showcasing a rich mix of shairis, poems, enlightening experiences / remarks, fashion show, dances and nostalgic songs by famous local Atlanta talents.
Raneez Collection presented a Fashion Show with seniors along with their granddaughters as models on the runway accompanied by live music coordinated by Sanjay Thakkar and Navin Tyagi. In the first walk, led by volunteer Chinti Bali, seniors clad in colorful saris and Punjabi outfits swung elegantly into action displaying the latest collections of fashionable outfits in vogue. Next parade was that of younger ladies to the song ‘pardesi girl’ with great poise in front of cheering audience.
Master of Ceremony, Ujjagar Singh Wassan, a gifted artist (painter) himself, paid rich tribute to the selfless service of the SCP volunteers with a well-composed poem befitting the 15th anniversary celebrations.
……Mohabbat aur mushaqat se ghounsle banaye Raj ne…….Inhin ghounslon ke senior parinde hain hum……Banane ke liye senior khudai rishte ko…..Naam kiya dein unke sajde ko, Lafz nahin hamare paas yeh kehne ko……
[When summarily translated, ‘we (seniors) are fortunate to be here in this program, where we are tenderly loved and cared for by the selfless service of the SCP team/volunteers. We (seniors) reciprocate with our blessings to you all’. ]
Other prominent senior members of the SCP also paid similar heartfelt tributes. Ashok Dave, a retired Indian Air Force officer with a great sense of humor, got serious for a change, and congratulated SCP on its 15th anniversary, commenting, “Today is a very auspicious day as you have completed 15 years. Just as you all are looking after the elders, may your children grow up and take care of you in your sunset years while you enjoy your life to the fullest. Blessings!” (Applause!). Vinod Patel (Founding member of the Gujarati Samaj of Atlanta, and a hotelier), Sharad Shah (Founding member of the Gujarati Samaj of Atlanta and a world renowned Bridge player), Dr. Samar Mitra (retired Professor of Emory University), Hiramani Gupta and Shakuntala Ahuja echoed similar sincere compliments and tributes anecdoted with their own life experiences.
Seniors Kusum Sinha, Anjana Das Shah and Krishna Narula also recited poems, respectively, in appreciation of the service of elders by SCP. Lakshmikant Pandya performed an amusing and riveting mime act,' Gangaram in the Garden’. Kaushi Shah captivated the audience with her solo act of a Pagli (mad woman) depicting how the rat race of materialistic world has driven her crazy. Asima Gauba, Prachi Patel and Anjali Nair had the audience clapping and tapping their feet when they danced to a popular all-time hit pop number, ‘eena meena deeka’. This was followed by yet another Punjabi Gidda (folk) dance led by Chinti Bali and her team (Poonam Datta, Amarjit Kaur, Santosh Shailly, Prem Khanna, Balwinder Kaur, Gurpreet Kaur) of seniors and youth. Well-known Atlanta singers Beena Kumar, Rekha Pallath, Amit Dave, Navin Tyagi, Pankaj Bhargav enthralled the audience with a plethora of Bollywod songs, taking the gathering down the memory lane. The gathering missed the performances of popular singers of Shyam Kadle’s group due to time constraints. The seniors, however, appreciated their presence and willingness to entertain the seniors.
In his special remarks, Guest speaker Greg Pridgeon complimented, “What a wonderful sight to see you all here. You all, including our mentors, have interacted with each other and changed so many lives. I have tremendous admiration for what you (seniors) have done and what you do to make America better. My heartfelt congratulations on your 15th anniversary! Thank you Volunteers for doing a fantastic job. Raj, my sister, is an ever-ready battery; she keeps going, going and going!”
After lighting the traditional Lamp (Diya) with the sponsors of the event, the keynote speaker Hon. Ajit Kumar, First Consul General of India to Atlanta, said, “I am honored to be here.I am very touched by the work Raj and the SCP volunteers are doing over the years. I hope and wish your program goes from strength to strength. I experienced a few touching moments at this unique function today. It reminded me of my own parents. This is part of our culture, which we must not forget otherwise we lose our roots.”
Recipients for the Awards for Life Time Sponsors (donors of over 10 Years) were: Bhupinder & Veena Gouri, Dr. Jayprakash & Rekha Desai, Dr. Rani Singh; Sandeep & Sapna Gauba; Dr. Sanjay & Bina Patel, Surinder & Poornima Malhotra & Nirmala Arneja; Dr. Brajinder & Shashi Singh; and Vikas & Dolly Verma.
Next Group of Awardees was the Annual sponsor (less than ten years): Dr. Inderpal Singh; Mahesh & Bhavna Brahmbhatt; Suren & Leena Shah; Drs. Prakash & Usha Desai; Arun & Manju Kothary; Bhagu & Rupa Ahuja; Chandler & Paddy Sharma.
The Media Awardees were: Khabar-Parthiv Parekh (Award received by Nanubhai Parekh); Atlanta Duniya (Khandelwals); NRI Pulse (Veena Rao); Mahadev Desai (Journalism); Ravi Ponangi (Journalism); Vinod Karia (Photography).
In her Vote of thanks, Chinti Bali thanked Musicians, A/V Supporters and Vocalists Navin Tyagi and group; Shyam Kadle and group; Sunny Thakker; Sagar Thakker; Caterer, Raj Bhog; Monty Huda for the beverages; Sanjay Pandya of Davis Printing for printing; Tarun Sirohi for website development; Ajay Sethi for coordination of Luncheon arrangements and all the Volunteers.
The Seniors provided a standing ovation to all the volunteers - Raj Razdan, Arunaben Patel, Chinti Bali, Sonia Singh, Shashi Sidhaye, Minesh Modi, Isha Goyal, Poonam Datta, Nalini Bhindi, Jyoti Dama and Mona Bhandari for well-deserved felicitations.
“SCP programs help us seniors to be with our friends and family more often, to enjoy lunches, fashions shows, movies, music programs, spiritual discourses, celebrating Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Diwali, Christmas, availing of health fairs, etc. and above all the fraternity. SCP provides a platform to the seniors to share their life experiences and to display their talents in music, dance, poetry, art and hearty laughs”, said one of the popular and active senior Mansukhbhai Shroff .
An exuberant Raj commented, “SCP will continue to host programs to enrich the quality of Senior Citizen’s lives. It will aim at helping seniors play an active and positive role in society, and in facing problems of loneliness and isolation, keeping contact with their offspring and grandchildren, transport, housing, health, communications, social security benefits, etc. It is time for the community to realize that our Senior Citizens are not a burden but assets with vast experience and ocean of love. SCP will endeavor to draw the best out of our seniors”
For now, it has been an exhilarating walk down the road for SCP for the past 15 years. The journey continues with an upbeat spirit.
The author, Mahadev Desai, is a Senior Citizen and a member of