Our New Yorker of the Week has been helping seniors with dementia engaged since long before the pandemic. It's something she took on, while she was taking care of her ailing mother.
Blanca Cintron gets emotional talking about her mother's bout with Alzheimer's. It started 11 years ago.
"I didn't know anything about dementia, Alzheimer's, or anything like that," Cintron said. "So I was a little overwhelmed."
The East Elmhurst resident found help at Sunnyside Community Services, a social service agency in Queens.
"Once my mother was stable with them, I was able to take care of me," she said.
And it wasn't long before she started volunteering there with the Center's Social Adult Day Program. She helped people with dementia eat, exercise and dance. She even kept at it after her mother passed away.
Then the pandemic hit and the dancing took a beat.
Now Cintron leads classes three times a week over Zoom. She and her brother, Joe, broadcast from their kitchen every Monday. We met her as she showed participants her take on chicken soup.
Cintron often makes dishes celebrating her Puerto Rican roots. She's made empanadas, flan and more.
Her participants lovingly dubbed it the "Cooking With Blanca" show. She also folded in some exercises.
"I think it keeps their mind a little active even though a lot of them know there's something wrong with them," Cintron said.
Other days it's about stretching and breathing.
It's been helpful for families like the Treitmeier's. 83-year-old Anni has been living with dementia for the better part of a decade.
"It's been great for her just to have the engagement," Anni's daughter, Christa Treitmeier-Meditz, said. "Just to see somebody on the screen rather than sit around all day."
"We've heard that many of our clients have been declining," said Naomi Berger, the director of the Social Adult Day Program at Sunnyside Community Services. "And I think the fact that we do have our Zoom activities and Blanca's involved with them, it keeps the clients stimulated."
It has created a virtual community for caregivers and a second family for Cintron.
"I do see my mom in them," she said. "This is just an outlet. It relaxes me."
For cooking up new ways to help people with dementia during the pandemic, Blanca Cintron is our New Yorker of the Week.