SALT LAKE CITY — Scott Silcox came to the west side of Pioneer Park Tuesday afternoon looking merely for a free Popsicle and a cold bottle of water.
What he found was a beloved family member, with whom he had long since lost touch.
Silcox's aunt, Donna Adams, was among several assisted living residents who embarked to the heart of downtown Tuesday to share some relief from the July heat by giving out bottles of water and Popsicles to the homeless. After Silcox recognized his relative — "Is that my Aunt Donna?" he had asked incredulously — he walked up to put his arm around her.
The two exchanged pleasantries, laughed together and split a Popsicle to share. The unexpected reunion was a stunning godsend, said Silcox, adding that his aunt helped raise him.
"I think it's the specialest thing in the world," he told the Deseret News. "I think that's where I got my happy-go-lucky from — my Aunt Donna."
Silcox, who is homeless, estimates he hadn't seen his aunt in at least five years. But after a couple minutes of them reconnecting, it wasn't easy to tell they had been apart for so long.
"I'd always make her laugh," Silcox recalled of his younger days.
The unlikely event that brought the two together, held in conjunction with National Cheer Up the Lonely Day, consisted of residents from Wentworth assisted living communities in Sandy, Draper and Millcreek helping the homeless stay cool.
The function, in its second year, is designed not only to show the homeless that they are valued but to give the residents a cathartic outlet by making a difference through serving, said Amelia Larson, executive director of Wentworth at Willow Creek, the organization's Sandy location charged with coordinating the effort.
"A lot of our residents and people that are typically that age kind of feel like they can't give back anymore and they're not able to touch people in that way that maybe they were used to," Larson said. "So it just kind of brings them alive again and allows them to relive that experience of when they did do things like this on a common basis, and have that interaction and to still be that person that they've always been."
Adams agreed, saying that even besides the shock of getting to talk with her nephew, there were clear benefits to the service project that were not entirely selfless.
"Those four walls get to you after a while," she said. "It's good to get out."
Larson said that for the homeless population, the camaraderie with the volunteers — being noticed and talked to — is what is most touching about the event, more so than the cool refreshments themselves.
"(Our residents) just kind of felt the homeless are people who don't typically have a group that supports them and interacts with them and socializes, and so it's just a good opportunity for us to be able to bring someone happiness," she said. "It's just a simple treat — a Popsicle — but (with) how hot it is outside it's the perfect thing."
Jeff Clark, who is homeless, agreed that the gesture was as meaningful to him as what he received.
"I think it's quite nice of them to come out here. A lot of times we can't afford to get water and Popsicles, so it's actually great," Clark said.
"(But) the best part is not being judged."
The service offered Tuesday went both ways at times. Kristen Williams, who is also homeless, and Clark both helped the Wentworth staff and volunteers unload their truck when they first arrived. The seniors who were there to volunteer reminded Williams of some of her own loved ones, she said, and she wanted to make herself useful.
"It's like (seeing) your grandparents," Williams said. "So you want to help them."
Some of the volunteers also handed out candy to those who stopped by, including Wentworth resident Joyce McKenney who said interacting with people in need is an enjoyable way to forget yourself.
"I can't even imagine how they deal with what they have to deal with," she said of the people she was serving. "We don't realize how lucky we are until we see something like that. It's nice to be able to help somebody that isn't so fortunate right now. They all seem so grateful, they really do."
A handful of volunteers from Top Golf also helped out Tuesday under the direction of assisted living staff. The project is just one of several that the Wentworth helps residents sign up for throughout the year, including providing the homeless with meals, school equipment drives and the assembling of hygiene kits, said Parker Breault, lifestyle and leisure director at the Wentworth.
Most people underestimate seniors' abilities to serve, Breault said, but many of them still itch to use their lifetime worth of acquired skills to give back, making them "a force to be reckoned with."
"The community service — we can't get enough of it," she said.