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Members of a Wharton management group help senior citizens fight holiday lonliness at a Thanksgiving dinner.

Credit: Wesley Sheker

Spiral streamers and “Happy Thanksgiving” banners adorned the common room of Mercy Douglas Residences this past Friday as residents of the senior housing building gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving.

From the sidelines, a Wharton Management 100 group proudly looked on at the smiling seniors sporting balloon bracelets and hats and realized that they weren’t just completing another assignment — they were changing lives.

Mercy-Douglas Residences and nearby Sansom House are a part of the Mercy-Douglas Human Services Affiliate. These two sister senior housing buildings are home to adults over the age of 62. However, as property manager Dreama Durham noted, there are “a lot of isolation issues, especially around the holidays.”

That’s where Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly comes in. Little Brothers is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1946 in Paris. The group has been in Philadelphia for 26 years, according to Julianne James, the original board chair and current executive director.

The Philadelphia chapter of Little Brothers has about 600 volunteers who work with senior citizens in both private homes and retirement homes, primarily those who have little or no family support. Next week they expect to visit around 220 homes and 140 people in nursing homes for Thanksgiving.

This fall, one Management 100 group was offered the chance to help put on Mercy-Douglas’s only Thanksgiving dinner event. The catch? A $0 budget.

Wharton freshman and group member Cole Pergament said that the group relied on donations. These donations included food from businesses such as Eat Café and Feast Your Eyes Catering, live music from freshman cellist Nathan Chiu and freshman saxist Pranav Pillai and even a balloon twister.

The event was more than just planning — many of the freshmen formed relationships with the residents.

Service coordinator Lillian Jackson called the event “a blessing,” adding that it helped foster a sense of community among residents. Durham noted that only about 50 percent of the retirement home residents will leave for Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving dinner is the only event the home has planned for the holiday.

She added that “this is the most [people] we have at any event that we ever sponsor.”