Bob Martin played hooky once, and he’s not ashamed to admit it. Instead of going to school, he and a few friends took the subway to Manhattan for the day, ending up at the Paramount Theater where they saw Frank Sinatra perform. “Girls were dancing in the aisles!” says Martin.
Sixty years later, Martin, 79, was waiting for another musical performance to begin, this time without the need to be sneaky. He was one of twenty residents of the Fireside Convalescent Hospital who, two weeks before Christmas, rolled their wheelchairs into the Rec Room for a holiday show by the ukulele-playing George Mataele, 24, a volunteer who administers a weekly dose of musical cheer to the Santa Monica physical rehabilitation center. George may not be Sinatra, but judging by the rows of residents anxiously awaiting his arrival (he’s late) beneath the wreaths and holiday decorations, it hardly matters.
According to Linda Goldfinger, Fireside’s Activities Director, there are dozens of volunteers like George who donate their talents and time to help bring a smile to the faces of Fireside residents. Many play music — “our residents could listen to music from morning until night,” said Goldfinger, “It really brings everyone together.” But pianos, violins, ukuleles and the like represent only some of the entertainment provided by local volunteers. Others bring in animals, lead art projects, or play games with individual residents.
Volunteers range from elementary school students to UCLA undergraduates and senior citizens, all of whom help make life at Fireside a little more entertaining and enjoyable. However crowded the activities calendar may be though, there is always the need for more help, says Shannon Shahar, a long-term Fireside volunteer.
Fireside needs volunteers of all shapes and sizes, Shahar explains, from musicians eager to play for large groups, to individuals willing to help a resident with a crossword puzzle for the afternoon, or make Christmas cards, or just accompany a group of residents on a fieldtrip to the Farmers Market. The volunteers are important, she says, because “they bring a sense of community to the inside from the community on the outside.”
When George and his ukulele finally arrive, the room is pleasantly surprised to see that he’s brought his father to accompany him on guitar. They begin the holiday show with “Jingle Bells,” then launch into a Hawaiian version (George and his father are from Tonga in the Polynesian Islands) of “Merry Christmas.” When a resident in the back row yells out a request for Nat King Cole, the father and son duo happily comply with “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”
“I’m [George’s] favorite fan,” says Martin, beaming in the front row, but judging by the women dancing and bobbing in their wheelchairs, I’d wager that Bob has some competition.
Anyone who’d like to give back during the holidays, or who would be willing to volunteer at anytime during the year, even for a single-day commitment, should call the ever-welcoming Linda Goldfinger at 310.393.0475, or just stop by Fireside at the corner of 3rd Street and Washington Boulevard.