Christmas is an enchanting time of the year, and it is especially magical for children. However, it can also be a time of uncertainty. For families in need this holiday season, it doesn’t matter if the children have been naughty or nice, their parents simply do not have the means to provide anything outside of the bare necessities. The idea of sweet children not being able to experience the magic of the holidays pulls at the heartstrings of seniors living at Emerald Court, a Kisco Senior Living community. Some know firsthand what it is like to grow up in humble beginnings and can resonate with these families. Others who grew up with plenty have found themselves inspired by their friends, families and fellow residents to join in the spirit of giving back and help people in need. Regardless of their backgrounds, the residents are teaming up to ensure that children and families served by local nonprofits get to experience the Christmas they deserve.

Emerald Court residents are participating in two programs this year. The first is the “Adopt-A-Family Holidays 2019” program organized by the OC Family Justice Center Foundation (OCFJC). The mission of the OCFJC Foundation is to provide direct-victim assistance and empowerment, as well as prevention resources for victims and families whose lives have been impacted by domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and elder abuse. This year, the senior living community adopted two families and will be purchasing gifts for four parents and nine children. The items on their wish lists are pretty simple: clothing, shoes, dolls, slippers, Legos and other toys, which Emerald Court will deliver on December 11. Participating residents and associates will attend a Christmas party at the OCFJC on December 19 from 3-6 p.m., during which they will be able to watch the families open all of their gifts.

“I grew up as a poor coal miner’s daughter in the Appalachian Mountains, and every gift we received came as a donation from an organization similar to the ones we are donating to,” said Helen Stevenson, a resident of Emerald Court. “Now that I’m in a position to give back, I am very happy to do so. I have been busy making a few quilts and two stockings for the families. I am so excited to present each family with one of the snowman stockings I made and filled with goodies for all to enjoy. It will be very rewarding to see everyone open their gifts. In a community like Emerald Court, where we are catered to every day and are truly living the good life, it can be easy to forget that there are families that don’t have as much as we have. It’s so wonderful that many of my fellow residents realize that if we come together, we can fill needs in our surrounding community.”

Emerald Court is also partnering with the Anaheim Fire Department to provide new, unwrapped toys for children of all ages. From December 1-20, the senior living community will collect toys for the “Spark of Love Toy Drive.” The public is encouraged to participate and bring their donations to Emerald Court (1731 West Medical Center Drive, Anaheim, CA 92801). As a thank you, the chef at Emerald Court is preparing decadent pastries in the community’s BLU Bakery and will send some home with all who donate. In the last 25 years, this drive has collected 10 million toys for children and teens.

“We are calling on the public to help us provide Christmas gifts for children of all ages,” said Cynthia Edwards, executive director of Emerald Court. “We are eager to partner with local organizations and make a positive impact on the families and children they serve. Emerald Court has worked with both groups in the past, and we look forward to providing our continued support to these nonprofits. Knowing that our efforts will put countless smiles on the faces of these families is the joy that drives us.”

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During the month of September Emerald Court, a Kisco Senior Living community, worked diligently collecting teddy bears for first responders in honor of the senior living community’s 30th anniversary. Recently, residents and team members delivered over 600 teddy bears to the Orange County Family Justice Center  These special bears will be used by first responders in various capacities when additional care is needed.

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The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of karate is most likely Carl Douglas’ classic song “Kung Fu Fighting” or even the 80s’ classic “The Karate Kid”. That’s why it might come as a surprise to learn that a group of senior residents from Emerald Court, a Kisco Senior Living community, will soon tie on their white belts and begin learning the ancient art of karate. On Friday, May 10 at 10:00 a.m., the residents will gather together at the senior living community (1731 West Medical Center Drive) for their first martial arts class. During the lesson attendees will learn not only how to balance their body and improve their physical wellness, but also the basics of self-defense. For residents participating, the class will be particularly exciting as it provides the opportunity to improve their well-being all while learning something new.

The karate seminar will be the first of many as the community begins a partnership with the American Martial Arts Academy. The academy has been serving the community in Orange County for more than 25 years and strives to help people of all ages improve the physical, mental and social aspects of their lives while working together as a team. The partnership with Emerald Court began after Shirley, the mother of the academy’s co-owner and CFO, Bonnie Wenneberg, and mother-in-law of the academy’s co-owner and CEO, Shihan Brad Wenneberg, made the decision to call the senior living community her new home. When the first session begins, Sensei Jeremy Schilling will lead the attendees as they start their journeys into the world of karate.

“I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to work with the residents and show them that martial arts isn’t just about self-defense,” said Schilling. “Karate provides a number of benefits to the student, foremost being improvement in one’s health and wellness, but also a sense of confidence and pride in one’s ability to perform the movements. When you regularly engage in martial arts there is a level of discipline that is applied to the practice, giving students a strength that is physical but also mental as well. When I teach I have students as young as two all the way to 90, so it will be exciting to see how the residents react and engage with the class.”

After the initial seminar, the community and Schilling will determine whether the class becomes a regular part of the community’s health and wellness activities. Schilling wants to use this first lesson as an opportunity to evaluate the residents and assess their physical capabilities and limitations to ensure that as they move forward it will be beneficial to their overall health and wellness.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to begin our karate program and are looking forward to seeing our residents get started,” said Cynthia Edwards, executive director of Emerald Court. “Our philosophy is to ensure residents have the opportunity to live their lives to the fullest, and with programs such as this one we know they have access to an activity that will enable them to have fun and enjoy themselves all while improving their health and well-being.” 

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With Veterans Day quickly approaching, men and women across the country will soon pause in reflection of their military careers while also honoring the men and women who continue to serve today. For veterans such as George Leyva and David George, residents of Emerald Court (a Kisco Senior Living community) who served in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, Veterans Day is an annual opportunity to look back on their respective careers and remember sacrifices made while serving our country.

“I’ll never forget my service and what I witnessed,” said Leyva. “As an aircraft mechanic, I saw plenty of combat, and each one of my memories is still so vivid. While serving in Europe I was part of the D-Day invasion, flying with my crew to our target: a German airbase in France. I’ll never forget the feeling of awe I had looking out to see planes in every direction for miles as we flew to our assigned targets. The battle that day was unlike anything I had ever seen, and it was difficult to watch as nearby planes went down. It’s an honor to have been a part of such a pivotal day in the history of the war. Looking back, I’m incredibly proud of the opportunity to serve my country. While in the military, you become very conscious of how wonderful our country is, mostly because you understand the cost of freedom. Veterans Day is a special time to honor those who served and continue to do so, and I hope that by sharing my involvement in the war our sacrifices are never forgotten.”

Leyva was drafted into the Air Force in January of 1943 and trained as an aircraft mechanic. Not long after finishing his training, he joined up with a group that had volunteered for combat missions, and he soon found himself working as a mechanic and gunner aboard a B-17. From May to October of 1944, he saw more than his fair share of combat, participating in 32 missions, including the D-Day invasion. After completing his missions, Leyva and his crew returned to U.S. soil where they trained new flight crews until the end of the war. Throughout his life he remained close with his crew, keeping in touch and sharing life’s adventures with one another. For their service, Leyva and his crew each received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. Additionally, a few years ago Leyva also received the Legion of Honor from the French Government for his actions during the war. Today, as the only living member of his crew, Leyva believes in the importance of sharing not only his story, but those of his crew to ensure their sacrifices are never forgotten either.

Like Leyva, George, often reflects on the importance of his early military service and how it would remain a lifetime calling. His service began with his enlistment in the Marine Corps shortly after finishing high school and served for three years, finding himself stationed in Japan and Korea during the Korean War. After leaving the USMC, George finished college and accepted a commission in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for another 18 years. During his service in the Air Force, George was stationed in several states, including California, Florida, Ohio, and Texas, and he saw combat during the Vietnam War as an avionics maintenance officer. He received a Bronze Star for Valor and the Meritorious Service Medal. His other tours of duty included Germany, England and Spain. Upon retiring from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel, he joined the defense industry where he worked for General Dynamics and the RAND Corporation. According to George, his life’s work was dedicated to ensuring the safety of this nation.

“I was always interested in serving my country, and I knew there were several different ways I could do so,” said George. “Whether on active duty in a service branch or working in the defense industry, I did so with the objective to keep our country both strong and well defended. Whatever the job, no matter how large or small, it could make a difference. As Veterans Day approaches, my heart and mind are with those who continue to serve our nation, in all capacities, focusing on their safety and well-being. It is the least we can do to show our appreciation for what they do every day to keep America safe.”

Both men, along with 68 of their veteran neighbors or neighbors with spouses who served during the military are recognized for their service as part of Emerald Court’s Veterans Wall. The wall is the community’s way of ensuring the stories and bravery of those who served are shared with everyone who visits the community. The wall was the first to be displayed across the Kisco organization and inspired 19 of Emerald Court’s sister communities to honor their veteran residents in a similar way. The Veterans Wall will be on display during Emerald Court’s Veterans Day celebrations on Sunday, November 11 during the community’s BBQ lunch and on Monday, November 12 at 10:00 a.m. when the community gathers to celebrate the country’s veterans, with a ceremony recognizing those in attendance and all branches of the military. Pins will be provided for veterans in attendance and flowers will be given to surviving spouses. During the ceremony, veterans and surviving spouses will also share stories about how military service influenced their lives.

“At Emerald Court, we’re privileged to have a number of men and women who served our country and now call our community home,” said Carole Bush, executive director of Emerald Court. “Their unique stories and dedication to our nation is a reminder of the importance of paying tribute to those who served and continue to do so. We’re honored to have individuals like George Leyva and David George who inspire us as they share their stories and remind us of the sacrifices for our freedom.”