- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

More than 1,000 senior citizens enjoyed a turkey dinner with all the fixings — and showed off some dance moves — at the 19th annual Thanksgiving Luncheon in Southeast yesterday.

The luncheon, which has become a “must attend” event for the 60-and-older crowd in the District, attracted nearly 1,500 seniors from all parts of the city for the hearty Thanksgiving meal, finger-snapping music and dancing.

“This luncheon says ‘thank you’ to seniors for their contributions,” said Maudine Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Urban League in Northwest, which, with the D.C. Office on Aging, sponsored the event at the D.C. Armory.

“These are the backs on which we stood to get where we are today,” she said. “A lot of seniors are lonely, and many of them are not acknowledged by family or friends. So, this is an opportunity for them to be recognized.”

And for them to enjoy to their hearts’ content.

ROTC cadets who attend D.C. high schools and Urban League volunteers served the seniors a hot meal of turkey, dressing, string beans and mashed potatoes and gravy.

Letha Blount, a 75-year-old director of the Ms. American Classic Pageant and a coordinator of senior programs at the Urban League, said she has attended the luncheon since its inception 19 years ago.

“So many people sit at home and look at television, and they don’t get out. But, they all look forward to this day,” said Ms. Blount, a community activist from the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest. “They get a good meal, an opportunity to socialize, and sometimes, they get a chance to meet the mayor. … And, it’s beautiful for the seniors to know they are loved and the city hasn’t forgotten about them.”

For the occasion, the Armory’s spacious hall was decorated with bunches of green, yellow and red balloons. Radio personality Rick Bolling of WPFW-FM (89.3) entertained the seniors throughout the luncheon. The Blind & Visually Impaired Choir from the Blind & Visually Impaired Senior Center in Northeast performed.

For Carrie Butler, the Ms. American Classic 2004 Woman of the Year, the luncheon is like a reunion. Yesterday, Ms. Butler, 79, of Southeast, stepped out in her tiara and in a glittering black two-piece suit.

“Some of them haven’t gotten together in about a year,” she said. “I think it’s nice that folks are doing something for the seniors. Of course, the city government could do more. … I would like to see more community interaction with seniors — [people] can visit nursing homes [and visit with] those who are unable to get out. It just takes a little time to light up their faces.”

After lunch, familiar R&B; sounds played by guest disc jockey Pomping Pete brought the senior citizens to their feet and onto the dance floor. When the “Electric Slide” resonated through the hall, both the young and the young at heart moved their shoulders, wiggled their hips and bobbed their heads as they got into the line-dance groove.

“I’ve always liked to dance,” said Marie Smart of Northwest. “I shook a little today because the music was so good.”

Mrs. Smart, who donned a bright orange topper with a matching orange turtleneck sweater and black jacket, said she has attended the luncheon for the past 13 years.

Karen O. Cobble, with the Urban League’s Division of Aging and Health Services, said the agency this year also wanted to focus on health and wellness, so the theme of the luncheon was “Giving Thanks: Aging Well, Living Well.”

Various health organizations and companies were on hand to give the seniors information about diabetes and related problems.

Before the buses lined up in front of the Armory to drive the senior citizens home, the ROTC cadets joined them for a last dance — to the current hit songs “Yeah!” by R&B;/hip-hop artist Usher and “Tear It Up” by rapper Yung Wun.

During the songs, the senior citizens showed the high school students some of their own moves.

“I love it,” said Marie Slye of Northeast, who worked up a sweat while dancing. “I love dealing with the young and the old. I just turned 70 on November 10, and I feel like I’m 16.”

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