She gave up a big Pharma job to help senior citizens, and they love her

Posted Jun 26, 2019

The Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer tested their memory before Thumbelina Newsome picked up the pace of their morning exercise.

Inside of a tiny Newark church nestled between Route 78 and a White Castle restaurant, a group of eager senior citizens began to clap their hands and stomp their feet when Newsome, their energetic caretaker, played “Follow Me,” a popular house music song.

“Let all your problems go," she said, smiling, instructing them to breathe deeply as they moved into a series of overhead arm stretches

They followed Newsome, because she followed her heart. Looking after these seniors -- some with developmental disabilities or dementia -- is her purpose after 10 years in the pharmaceutical industry.

They are the reason Newsome, 40, left a job three years ago as a buyer in that profession. She did it to take over Joy Cometh In The Morning, a social adult day care center that her mother, Faye Newsome, started nine years ago in that Newark church.

“I wanted to leave, because I knew there was a need," Newsome said. “For the latter part of their life, what can I do to give back to the community? I can bring joy and it doesn’t cost me nothing."

It was just a matter time before the Hillside native stepped into her mother’s role. Newsome, who now lives in Old Bridge, watched her mother work in the field for 20 years at other facilities before she started her own. She’s grown up with some of her mother’s clients over the years, meeting and spending time with them after school at places where her mother was employed.

“It’s something that’s natural for her," said Faye Newsome, her mother. “She’ll do whatever she has to do. She’ll come out of her pocket if she has to."

Newsome already has done so with a 50% pay cut to do this work that came during a difficult time in her life.

While making the transition to run the center, her husband of 10 years, David Turton, was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. He died two years later.

Newsome, however, remained committed to the seniors. She didn’t take any days off. The funeral was on a Friday. She was at the center that Monday.

“I was so focused and driven that I didn’t let no one or nothing stop me," said Newsome, who has three children. “Not even death. When God calls you to do his work, and you answer ‘yes,’ everything else is secondary."

She hasn’t looked back, and the seniors are glad she hasn’t. It’s all about socialization here, meaning the seniors have something to do for a few hours to break up what otherwise could be a lonely day. There’s no medical or social work services here, but they’re fine with that.

“It’s a family," said Edith McBride, an 85-year-old Newark resident who has been at the center since it opened. “If you come in the morning feeling bad, you will go out feeling different."

Betty Grimsley, 78, of Newark won’t go anywhere else and this place is like a second home to Beatrice Owens.

“This is just what I needed," Grimsley said.

They talk about current events and play Bingo. Brain teasers -- naming words with the letter “J” -- make them think. So do the colorful exercise noodles that Newsome tosses toward them to test their hand-eye coordination.

They get a kick out of it, laughing the whole time with Newsome calling out directions. Left arm, right arm. Both arms. Crisscross. It’s almost like Simon says, except Newsome is her name and the seniors feed off of her non-stop, consistent and genuine encouragement.

About 20 of them are picked up and dropped off five days a week. They’re served breakfast and lunch, and sometimes they eat out. If one of them is sick, no one is forgotten. Newsome takes the whole group to visit that person.

Laura Richardson, 54, of Orange, thought they would forget about her until she received get well cards after surgery.

“They cared about me and they love me," she said.

They care about everyone. Volunteers sign up and don’t want to leave.

Pamela Walsh comes on her day off from work. She was only at the center initially to pick up her son, Ruel Walsh-Brown, who was doing community service as a student requirement for St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark. But when Newsome invited her in to wait for her son, Walsh said she was hooked.

“It’s not just a business," Walsh said. “She takes the time to know everybody by name."

The center became more than a 30-day assignment for Toby Okani, 17, another St. Benedict’s student, who was there with Walsh’s son.

Being around the seniors reminded him of his late grandmother. Okani said he was able to open up and talk about her, a topic he was uncomfortable with before meeting the seniors. In one month, Okani became attached to the seniors, shedding a few tears of gratitude on his last day a few weeks ago.

“It’s something I’ll remember forever," he said.

That’s what it’s all about. Joy really does come in the morning. For the young and the old.

Newsome makes it happen.

“I’m here to serve," she said. “Somebody has to give up something for this to happen. That’s me.”

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