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Teens help Tietz lower age barriers with makeovers

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For Thomas Edison High School senior Tammy Tran, her time spent doing makeovers for seniors at the Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has not been just about beauty — it has given her a chance to become more outgoing and learn from women more than four times her age.

“I love volunteering at the nursing home,” Tran said as she painted 73-year-old Ada Odom’s nails last week. “I used to be really shy, but I’ve really opened up. I’ve learned more about compassion and how random acts of kindness mean a lot to people.”

Tran is the president of Thomas Edison HS’s chapter of Glamour Gals, an international group that brings teen volunteers to do makeovers for elderly women.

About 12 girls from the Jamaica school go to Margaret Tietz three to four times a month — and their visit April 14 was particularly exciting for them because they had won a fund-raising contest to bring Glamour Gals’ founder Rachel Doyle, of Los Angeles, and Program Director Julia Porter, of Indiana, to the event.

“We’re breaking down the barriers of age with conversati­on,” said Doyle, who started the first chapter in memory of her grandmother 10 years ago in her hometown of Commack, L.I. “There’s oral history being passed down, and the older women can be heard.”

For the older women who have seen the type of losses that come with aging spouses, close friends and family dying, these interactions are especially important, Tietz officials said.

“It increases residents’ self-esteem,” said Isabel Kellerman, director of therapeutic recreation at Tietz. “Some of the women don’t have young people in their families, so this gives them the chance to connect with the younger generations. It disproves stereotypes and hopefully now the girls won’t be afraid of growing older.”

Gerald Hart, executive director of Margaret Tietz, noted the program promoted so-called normal life activities meant to make residents feel at home.

“Everybody looks forward to it,” he said.

High school senior Maria Rodriguez said she values her time at Tietz, particularly because she has not gotten to spend much time with her own grandparents, who live in Mexico.

“I don’t really know my grandparents, so it’s really nice for me to be around the people at the nursing home,” Rodriguez said as she painted 80-year-old Irene Simmonds’ nails a shade of red, Simmonds’ favorite color.

“I have a bright red suit and people will tell me I’m too old to wear red, but I love it,” Simmonds said. “I want to be buried in red.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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