Star-Studded calendar earns national attention and raises money for the Alzheimer’s Association
Seniors at a local retirement community are dressing up like Hollywood stars. For the last three years, residents at Issaquah’s Spiritwood at Pine Lake have had the full Hollywood treatment—including elaborate makeup and costumes—all for the sake of gracing the pages of best-selling calendars to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.
“The project came about because I was looking for a way to earn more for the organization,” says Jennifer Angell, community relations director at Spiritwood. “We’ve had many benefits at the community to support that cause and I am always on the lookout for something unique.”
Jennifer is the mastermind behind the project. “I costume, photograph and provide the makeup for the residents,” she explains. The seniors are delighted to participate in the major makeovers that make them look like celebrities.
Over the years, star turns have included Marilyn Monroe, Tom Cruise in Top Gun, Queen Elizabeth, Alfred Hitchcock, Liza Minelli in Cabaret, the crew of Star Trek, the famous candy factory scene from I Love Lucy, Marlon Brando from The Godfather, and so many more.
The original inspiration for this unique project came when Jennifer noticed a strong resemblance between one of the residents and Katharine Hepburn. She thought to herself how fun it would be to dress her up like the iconic movie star.
And then, why not dress up even more residents like Hollywood celebrities? Taking their photos, creating calendars and selling them to earn money for the Alzheimer’s Association was the logical next step for Jennifer.
The project started in 2018, resulting in 2019’s calendar with its recreation of famous movie posters. Other photos have reinvented scenes from TV series.
“In wake of the pandemic, I am only doing single photos this year instead group shots like years past,” explained Jennifer.
She describes 2021’s calendar as Famous Faces. “It focuses on look-alikes of famous people. We are featuring Salvador Dali, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Colonel Sanders, Willie Nelson, Mary Tyler Moore, the Bride of Frankenstein, John Lennon, Elton John, W.C. Fields, Andy Warhol and Charlie Chaplin.”
Jennifer had no idea the project would take off like it has, garnering attention from around the country. The calendar has been covered on CNN, the Good News Network, The Kelly Clarkson Show and Access Hollywood, to name only a few of the media stories. Jennifer remembers how the residents “went crazy” when Access Hollywood’s host, Mario Lopez, said the name of their community on TV. “The reaction has been fantastic,” she exclaims. “We’ve been getting letters from all over the country.”
During Jennifer’s recent appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, she was presented with a “National Award for Kindness” and a check for $1,000 to go toward the cost of more costumes.
The start of all this attention was a bit of an accident.
Jennifer, who is always looking for uplifting stories— especially since COVID upended everyone’s lives— sent the Good News Network a video of residents singing the national anthem at a “virtual ballpark visit” and she accidentally attached a picture of the calendar. The news outlet skipped over the video and instead wanted the calendar.
After that, calls from other news programs and entertainment shows came pouring in.
“This project has been heartwarming, and it’s created an even closer bond between us,” says Jennifer of the special relationship she has with the residents. “Posing as the stars and then autographing glossy photos of themselves makes the seniors feel like stars themselves.”
After the photo shoots, the ‘stars’ would parade through the dining hall in their costumes to the clapping and cheers of their fellow residents.
“Everyone would go nuts!” says Jennifer. “Seniors have something amazing to offer,” she adds. “They feel wonderful, plus it all benefits a good cause.”
Even during COVID, community members were still able to observe the photo shoots. “Having the calendar has been a lifeline for many of our seniors, even those not in the calendar itself,” says Jennifer. “It’s been so much fun for everyone,” she adds.
CNN interviewed Kip Steele who, with his best friend Jack Guptil, posed as the Blues Brothers. The wheelchair-bound Kip told CNN that his experiences give him the confidence to try new things, like art class or “popping wheelies over curbs.” His big goal, he said, is to get out of the wheelchair and walk on his own. But in the meantime, he’s working on a final goal, reported CNN. “You know what the last thing on my bucket list is?” asked Kip with a laugh. “Don’t kick it.”
Jennifer reflects on what the project has meant to her. “The calendar has been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life. Working on it makes me want to give more time to the community. I tear up when I think of it. It has changed my life.”