For close to three decades, 90-year-old Serafina Marolla has volunteered at Smithtown Senior Center, which she calls her second home. NewsdayTV’s Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Serafina “Sarah” Marolla has spent nearly a third of her life helping fellow seniors at what she calls her “second home” — Smithtown Senior Center. 

Marolla, 90, a mother of two who lives in Nesconset, was among more than 100 “unsung heroes” the Town of Smithtown honored recently for their volunteer work.

Marolla, who emigrated from Italy in 1948 and became a United States citizen in 1955, began to volunteer at the senior center in 1995. 

Since then, the former seamstress has pitched in for the last 29 years by helping to make decorative pillows and handmade cards to distribute to nursing home patients, according to Patricia Bornhoft, a senior citizen assistant at the center. Marolla also is a founding member of several clubs within the center, including the Creative Club and the Gardening Club.

“She would tell stories about gardens and what she loves, and she would teach you the Italian word for some plants,” said Bornhoft, who has been friends with Marolla for 15 years. “She’s not just a participant, she says ‘What can I do to help?’”

Marolla also entertains at the center during celebrations by putting on a pair of yellow feathered wings and dancing with others for what has become known as her famous “chicken dance.” Her son Joe Marolla, 62, of Nesconset, said he loves how his mother found a new lease on life by volunteering at the center.

“It’s hard to put into words how happy it makes you feel when your mom is making new friends and having fun and she’s safe,” he added.

Newsday recently sat down with the elder Marolla to discuss her life and volunteerism. The interview below was edited for clarity and length.

What was your life like when you were growing up?

I was born in Giovinazzo. It's a town within the City of Bari, which is by the water in southern Italy. I came over here when I was 15 years old. I lived through World War II there. Growing up during the war, it was awful. I saw one day that the German army was marching in my town and one of the soldiers came out from the line with a whip and wanted to hit me. If you ran, they’d follow you. So I just put my head down. I only had third grade schooling because the soldiers took over the schools. 

How did you make it through the war and what was the next chapter in your life?

I had no other choice. My mother drove me down to a local convent, St. Joseph’s, and that’s where I learned how to make lace and how to sew and make dresses. When we came here, my mother, me, one of my brothers and my sister came by plane. My father was here and we came on Dec. 28, 1948. We lived on East 14th Street in Manhattan. My mother took a job as a seamstress in Brooklyn and she got me a job there and we worked at a clothing factory for six years. 

Decades later, how did you get involved at the senior center?

When my husband Alfonso died of lung cancer in 1990, I was only 57. I went to a grieving group, where I met a friend, and she said to me, “I’m going to take you someplace, and you’re going to thank me.” She took me to the senior center, just to look around, see what it was about and said I could join if I wanted to join. I didn’t think I would stay for very long. Now, for 29 years, I’ve been a volunteer.

Do you consider yourself a typical 90-year-old? 

I like to be active. I like to be happy, talk with people and make friends. There’s nothing wrong with making friends, although I don’t talk to the men, I’m old school.

Why is volunteering important to you?

I like to help as much as I can if you let me help you. You can see that new people are scared, so I come to them, and say “Hi, my name is Sarah … follow me if you like fun.” I like to help people, especially if they come from different countries. That’s the way I am. Maybe today I help you and tomorrow you help me.

Serafina “Sarah” Marolla has spent nearly a third of her life helping fellow seniors at what she calls her “second home” — Smithtown Senior Center. 

Marolla, 90, a mother of two who lives in Nesconset, was among more than 100 “unsung heroes” the Town of Smithtown honored recently for their volunteer work.

Marolla, who emigrated from Italy in 1948 and became a United States citizen in 1955, began to volunteer at the senior center in 1995. 

Since then, the former seamstress has pitched in for the last 29 years by helping to make decorative pillows and handmade cards to distribute to nursing home patients, according to Patricia Bornhoft, a senior citizen assistant at the center. Marolla also is a founding member of several clubs within the center, including the Creative Club and the Gardening Club.

“She would tell stories about gardens and what she loves, and she would teach you the Italian word for some plants,” said Bornhoft, who has been friends with Marolla for 15 years. “She’s not just a participant, she says ‘What can I do to help?’”

Marolla also entertains at the center during celebrations by putting on a pair of yellow feathered wings and dancing with others for what has become known as her famous “chicken dance.” Her son Joe Marolla, 62, of Nesconset, said he loves how his mother found a new lease on life by volunteering at the center.

“It’s hard to put into words how happy it makes you feel when your mom is making new friends and having fun and she’s safe,” he added.

Newsday recently sat down with the elder Marolla to discuss her life and volunteerism. The interview below was edited for clarity and length.

What was your life like when you were growing up?

I was born in Giovinazzo. It's a town within the City of Bari, which is by the water in southern Italy. I came over here when I was 15 years old. I lived through World War II there. Growing up during the war, it was awful. I saw one day that the German army was marching in my town and one of the soldiers came out from the line with a whip and wanted to hit me. If you ran, they’d follow you. So I just put my head down. I only had third grade schooling because the soldiers took over the schools. 

How did you make it through the war and what was the next chapter in your life?

I had no other choice. My mother drove me down to a local convent, St. Joseph’s, and that’s where I learned how to make lace and how to sew and make dresses. When we came here, my mother, me, one of my brothers and my sister came by plane. My father was here and we came on Dec. 28, 1948. We lived on East 14th Street in Manhattan. My mother took a job as a seamstress in Brooklyn and she got me a job there and we worked at a clothing factory for six years. 

Decades later, how did you get involved at the senior center?

When my husband Alfonso died of lung cancer in 1990, I was only 57. I went to a grieving group, where I met a friend, and she said to me, “I’m going to take you someplace, and you’re going to thank me.” She took me to the senior center, just to look around, see what it was about and said I could join if I wanted to join. I didn’t think I would stay for very long. Now, for 29 years, I’ve been a volunteer.

Do you consider yourself a typical 90-year-old? 

I like to be active. I like to be happy, talk with people and make friends. There’s nothing wrong with making friends, although I don’t talk to the men, I’m old school.

Why is volunteering important to you?

I like to help as much as I can if you let me help you. You can see that new people are scared, so I come to them, and say “Hi, my name is Sarah … follow me if you like fun.” I like to help people, especially if they come from different countries. That’s the way I am. Maybe today I help you and tomorrow you help me.

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