Newsday is opening this story to all readers as we provide Long Islanders with news and information you can use during the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates
The coronavirus pandemic has kept everyone in quarantine, but no one is more sequestered than senior citizens in assisted living facilities. Singer/songwriter JD Leonard of Bethpage decided to reach out to them via the internet by holding a Facebook Live virtual concert broadcasting it into Long Island assisted living facilities with assistance from the Alzheimer’s disease Resource Center in Bay Shore Saturday afternoon.
“These residents can’t go anywhere and now with the coronavirus they can’t even get visitors and entertainers aren’t permitted to come in,” says Leonard, 38. “I thought it would be cool if we could do a Facebook Live concert specifically for them.”
Assisted living facilities such as Village Walk at Patchogue, The Bristal Assisted Living at Massapequa, Sunrise Senior Living of West Babylon, Atria Senior Living in Bay Shore, Dominican Village in Amityville and Harmony House in Kings Park participated in the event.
“Music is the one thing that stays with someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s or related dementia. You see their faces light up and it takes them right back to a memory they might have with a particular song,” says Heidi Payne, Administrative Assistant at ADRC, who helped organize the concert. “They might not know who you are, but they remember every single word to that song. It’s just amazing.”
Leonard tailored the set list to the seniors’ generation featuring songs from ‘60s and ‘70s. Beginning with James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” and the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” he set a relaxing tone with his acoustic guitar as staff sent in comments plus thumbs-up and heart emojis.
“I think it’s important to let you folks know that we are all in the same boat. Nobody is coming to visit me either,” Leonard says into the camera. “But, this is a way for us to spend time together and let you know that you are on our minds and in our hearts.”
Leonard even took requests such as “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse from Village Walk in Patchogue as well as “Rockin’ Robin,” made famous by Michael Jackson, as a tribute to ADRC Executive Director Robin Marks.
“That’s an absolute first for me,” says Leonard, who learned the songs in-the-moment. “I might have to put those in my repertoire!”
Susan Miller of Medford tuned in with her husband, Jay Gassman, 64, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s 12 years ago.
“Jay loves music and always has so he enjoyed the concert,” says Miller, 61. “The James Taylor and Neil Young songs JD played were the ones he knows the words to and could sing along with.”
Miller was grateful to Leonard for sharing his talent.
“The fact that someone took the time to do that is absolutely terrific,” she says. “As the disease progresses, our social world becomes smaller and smaller, therefore, anytime anybody wants to do something on that scale is really appreciated.”
A special link was installed so outside viewers could donate to ADRC and going forward Leonard hopes to continue these performances once a week.
“I was just happy to bring a little light to their day,” he says. “ It made me feel like a million bucks.”