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The perfect day for a tea party

Greenspring transforms into Downton Abbey for a heartfelt, enjoyable afternoon

Created date

June 27th, 2017
Continuing Care Program Director Renee Budd (center) works with student volunteers to decorate for the Downton Abbey-themed tea party.

Continuing Care Program Director Renee Budd (center) works with student volunteers to decorate for the Downton Abbey-themed tea party.

Recently, volunteers at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va., joined forces with local high school students to host a formal Downton Abbey-themed tea party for more than 70 residents of Garden Ridge, Greenspring’s continuing care community.

“It was the perfect day,” says Renee Budd, program director at Garden Ridge. “We were looking for new and innovative ways to help our residents fully enjoy Greenspring’s campus life, and this proved to be the perfect event to meet those goals.” 

Budd, working side by side with Greenspring Volunteer Coordinator Katherine Knoble, knew they wanted to plan an event that featured music, a change of environment, and the inclusion of local students.

“We first reached out to one of our frequent volunteer partners, Paul VI High School, for student volunteers to help plan and organize the event,” says Knoble. “Working with young students helps break down the barriers of ageism. We felt strongly that they would come up with something terrific. Through their own research, they decided on a Downton Abbey-themed tea party.”

“Once that decision was made, it was full steam ahead,” says Budd.

A proper affair

Downton Abbey, a British historical television drama, aired in the U.S. on PBS, depicts the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants during the years 1912–1925. In order to create a Downton Abbey at Greenspring, Knoble and Budd needed as many volunteers as possible.

“We knew right away that this was going to be a big event,” says Knoble. “In addition to the students at Paul VI, led by Laura Moore and Caroline Elszy, we reached out to nearby West Springfield High School for volunteers. The students immediately agreed to help and did so in honor of Leslie Sherman, a West Springfield High School graduate and former Greenspring volunteer who lost her life in the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007.” 

Numerous Greenspring community members also joined in the effort. Donna Broome, a Greenspring independent living ambassador to Garden Ridge, helped energize volunteers, while Jim Fujita and Roy O’Connor worked on a plan for escorting the Garden Ridge residents to the tea party. And Marge Krape, a member of the Greenspring Players drama club, worked diligently to provide period costume pieces for every guest. 

As a member of both the Greenspring ballroom dancers and line dancing club, community member John Carle called on his fellow dancers to provide entertainment at the party.

“I asked the dancers to please come, and they did,” he says. 

“A special day like this cannot happen without the tremendous support of our many volunteers,” says Knoble. “The success of the party is a direct result of their efforts.”

Down to the details

On the day of the party, the high school students arrived early in the morning to assist Greenspring volunteers and staff in decorating the Hunters Crossing Conference Center. 

They set the tables beautifully for tea with rented china stemware, linens, vintage teapots, and flower arrangements. A true-to-life backdrop of the Downton Abbey castle was set up to provide ambience and a perfect photo spot. 

“Two students who’ve taken etiquette classes made certain the tables were set properly,” says Budd.

As the party began, Jim and Roy worked diligently to safely bring the guests to the conference center where they were welcomed by a red carpet. They were then presented with corsages and escorted to their seats by the high school students. Once seated, they enjoyed live piano music performed by frequent Garden Ridge entertainer Dale Jarrett. Students, dressed as Downton Abbey servants, presented a variety of teas and cookies.

“The students were the highlight of the day,” says Donna, who accompanied a friend to the party. “They sat down at the tables striking up conversation and encouraged guests to join them on the dance floor.”

The students from both high schools also performed skits for the guests based on the Downton Abbey television show. And a special presentation was made in memory of Leslie Sherman and ribbons of remembrance were distributed.

The power of music

As the guests snacked and talked, John and his fellow dancers took to the dance floor and encouraged both the guests and students to join them. 

“I was most impressed by the easy way the students interacted with the residents,” says John. “They were not shy.”

“There were so many smiling faces; that’s what struck me the most,” says Roy. “Many of the Garden Ridge residents asked me to dance with them, and I was happy to oblige.”

At the end of the party, Jim and his team of volunteers ensured that everyone returned home safely. 

“Given the large number of people at the party, I’m pleased that it all went off without a hitch,” he says. “The high school students were essential to making that happen. I’m so impressed on how it all came together.”

Due to the success of the day, Budd and Knoble plan to team up again soon to provide additional community-building activities. 

“One of the best things about the Downton Abbey party was how it brought our whole community closer together,” says Roy. “It’s one of the many wonderful reasons why living here is so great.”