Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Songstress, Penny D'Agostino, a Jewish Pavilion honoree


Penny D'Agostino

The Jewish Pavilion will host its Annual Volunteer Luncheon, JP Connections, at the Altamonte Hilton on Thursday, Dec. 10 at the Altamonte Hilton at 11 a.m. The luncheon will honor volunteers Penny D' Agostino and Joan Pohl, as well as all Pavilion volunteers and members.

"Penny D'Agostino has a song in her heart for Orlando's seniors, and for the past six years she has shared her musical gifts with the elder-care community, bringing joy to hundreds of residents a year through music," said Jewish Pavilion Executive Director Nancy Ludin. "Please join us as we honor two extraordinary women, who help fulfill the Pavilion's mission of enhancing lives in elder care, songstress, Penny D'Agotistino, and volunteer Yiddish teacher, Joan Pohl. Don't miss, JP Connections, our Volunteer and Member Appreciation Luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 10th at the Altamonte Hilton."

D'Agostino became involved with the elder-care community even before becoming a Jewish Pavilion volunteer. The professionally trained singer and cantorial soloist has spent a lifetime sharing her passion with those in need. The Long Island and South Florida native stated, "I come from a musical family and grew up singing with my father and brother. Our volunteer concerts for seniors became a family affair, and our way of giving back to the community."

D'Agostino still returns to Delray Beach, where her parents, Lynn and Mel Goldstein, have retired, to spend quality time with her parents and to sing in an occasional concert as a family. She noted that while mom does not sing, she is their greatest supporter and "always brings the best snacks and the loudest applause."

D'Agostino brought her musical talents to Orlando's elder-care community several years after moving to Central Florida in 1994, and was joined in her efforts by her brother, Walt, when he moved to the Sunshine State in 2004. During the Jewish holidays like Passover, the twosome would often stay and visit with seniors, sharing holiday favorites like matzah or charoset. Soon the dynamic duo expanded their visits and their holiday giving. "One day one of the executive directors of one of the homes approached me," D'Agostino noted. "He said, 'You should meet Nancy Ludin and get to know the Jewish Pavilion. They would love to have you.'"

Not long after, the two women met at a JCC gathering. Ludin reported, "We were thrilled to have a volunteer with Penny's enthusiasm and musical talents." D'Agostino has been singing at least 40 concerts a year with the Pavilion ever since.

"There were a few defining moments that helped me realize why I have to volunteer in nursing facilities, and why you should, too," remarked D'Agostino. "Singing at senior facilities is a lot of work, but it is a labor of love. Often, I see a seemingly expressionless face light up during a concert, or a gleam in the eye of a memory impaired resident who is singing along to a long-forgotten tune." While not all volunteers are comfortable with memory care patients, D'Agostino makes it a point to visit these homes. She revealed that her concerts at memory care homes run a full hour, just like her concerts at other senior facilities. She stated, "You would be amazed to see a room full of memory care patients singing 'You are My Sunshine.' It brings tears to my eyes every time. Not only do the memory care residents last the hour, but they ask for more."

Ludin noted that musical concerts and sing-a-longs benefit elder-care residents in countless ways.

"Penny's repertoire of popular music from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s along with familiar Broadway tunes bring comfort and familiarity to the seniors, while helping preserve and access memories that have been long forgotten," Ludin said. "Songs from the past serve up memories, and the beautiful Jewish music like 'My Yiddisha Mama' and 'Bei Mir Bist du Schoen' sung by Penny always bring joy and tears amongst the residents in her audience. Music is a universal language that speaks to the listener regardless of their age. Because she uses a karaoke machine everyone can see the words, and sing along, even the hearing impaired."

D'Agostino believes a life-changing car accident helped her develop a strong sense of compassion, and the desire to reach out to those in need. Just before her twenty-first birthday, she was seriously injured in an accident that left her non-ambulatory for several years. The lingering effects still cause pain on a daily basis to this day.

"I realized how alone and isolated I felt during my three years of rehabilitation. I reach out to seniors in facilities (including rehab), because no one should ever feel that alone," D'Agostino stated.

More than 20 years later, she has learned to manage her pain, pushing through on good days, and taking it a little slower on the more difficult ones. She shared, "On a difficult day I can go back to bed, or I can go to work and/or volunteer with some seniors. Either way I still have pain, but I can also have sense of accomplishment."

D'Agostino works alongside her husband, David, at Infinity Financial Group of Altamonte Springs, where they help businesses and people in financial crisis. She stated, "We had learned the hard way through our own parents that it was very difficult for middle class, middle age people to get help with retirement. Based on our experiences, we decided to open a financial services firm and help people prepare for retirement and organize their retirement income to last a lifetime. It is very fulfilling and we have been able to help hundreds of people in our community." She added, "David specializes in insurance and investments, and I do accounting, business consulting and taxes. Many of our clients have become like family."

During the past few weeks, D'Agostino has been using her management skills in the Pavilion offices, lending a hand during a transition of office staff.

D'Agostino noted that she is thrilled and surprised to be honored at the upcoming Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, and has been penning her brief remarks for the past 10 months. She shared that her remarks will be limited, because people would much rather hear her sing. She stated, "Last year my father and I sang 'Sunrise Sunset' at a Father's Day Event at Horizon Bay. I couldn't help but cry, and when I looked up into the audience, I saw tears flowing, as well. I hope to share this moving experience with the guests at the Volunteer Luncheon."

D'Agostino shared with regret that at this time her father is recovering from an illness (but is stable) and may not be up to traveling to attend the luncheon. The consummate professional knows the show must go on, and plans on sharing a song from her heart with brother, Walter, his wife, Helene, and his son, Bradley.

The event is open to the community, and includes a gourmet lunch, holiday bazaar, and live music. Contact http://www.jewishpavilion.org or call 407-678-9363 to register, make a donation, or to find out more.


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