Tessie Sy-Coson and Finding the Sun creative director and editor Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura, with contributing writers Vicky Zubiri, Vicky Pollisco and Conchitina Bernardo

The Sunshine Place is where seniors paint together, laugh at each other’s stories, listen to concerts, and find their second home.

Which floor is the Sunshine Place located?” a gray-haired man asked as he entered the elevator. “Is there also a Sunset Place here?”

“There are no sunsets here,” the elevator guy answered,”this place is all sunshine.”

SMIC vice chair Tessie Sy-Coson and her mother Felicidad Tan Sy: They built the Sunshine Place to help seniors express their passions and find a renewed purpose in life.

And thus began my introduction to the Sunshine Place, a senior recreation center in Makati. I went there to attend the launching of a book. I left the place with plenty of heartwarming stories and some tears in my eyes. Yes, they were feel-good tears.

The first person I saw was a familiar lady in blue, Felicidad Sy, the very approachable matriarch of the SM family. She was all smiles when I asked her: “You’re looking so good at 88, what’s your secret?”

Mrs. Sy laughed. ”Shhh, just say I’m feeling 16, not 88,” she answered, “Secrets? I don’t follow any diet, I eat everything but I don’t eat too much. I go to Mass every day without fail.”

Pious is a good word to describe this lady who makes sure there is a church or chapel in every mall that SM builds. And that is perhaps why we never see any casino in SM projects — it simply isn’t compatible being built near a house of God.

I asked her to describe each of her children, and Mrs. Sy replied, ”Lahatmasipag. Tessie, Big Boy (Henry Jr.), Betty, Hans, Herbert and Harley. Betty is a good baker, but do you know who also cooks well? Herbert! Every Sunday we hear Mass and have lunch together and it’s Herbert who cooks for us!”

Just then, her daughter Tessie Sy-Coson entered the recreation hall, now getting noisy with the chatter of women and men.

“Yes, we got this building specifically for this Sunshine Place where seniors can enjoy themselves,” Tessie explained.

During the program where we later watched members dancing and walking the fashion runway, Tessie said, “The important thing is that they have the feeling of usefulness. Their dance or song numbers may not be perfect, but what matters is that they find joy and purpose in their everyday lives.”

Established under the Felicidad Tan Sy Foundation, the Sunshine Place is a venue for adults to live actively by engaging in recreational classes and physical fitness programs.” It is where senior citizens can socialize, be entertained, and reflect. It is a place of happiness and wellness for one’s mind, body and soul.”

I asked Tessie if the Sunshine Place was inspired by her mom, and she nodded, although perhaps wishing her mom could go there more often. Mrs. Sy said: “Almost every Friday, I come for Mass, and then enjoy the potluck lunch. I am always there for their parties, always heartened by the joy I feel, bursting out of the men and women I meet. I can say that Sunshine Place was a wonderful and successful idea ofr more and more people to find happiness later in life.”

SM-STAR partnership: SMIC vice chair Tessie Sy-Coson, Philippine Star lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil, Finding the Sun creative director Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura, Philippine Star ’s Lucien Dy Tioco and SM SVP for marketing communications Millie Dizon

The place certainly inspires lovely and lively women like Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura, whose Sunday column in The Philippine STAR is mostly about how she finds happiness conducting writing classes and singing at the Sunshine Place. She also writes about her new life after being single for 41 years. Barbara, 73, recently married lawyer Loy Ventura, 79, and they are the most famous newlyweds in Manila. The sometimes shy Loy has had to wear shades, not being used to public attention.

The book Finding the Sun, where 30 seniors narrate their life stories, was edited by Barbara and published in partnership with The Philippine STAR. There, Barbara writes how she became an introvert, after seeing all the men in her family shot to death by the Japanese during World War II, and became extroverted only when she joined the advertising industry. If she had her way, she would spend days in front of the TV set, while knitting.

Two more lovely women — Vicky Fernandez-Zubiri and Conchitina Sevilla-Bernardo — entered the room, both claiming a table.

“That’s my place,” they chimed almost at the same time, referring to their favorite spot. “We were classmates in grade school, and now we’re classmates again in painting lessons here at the Sunshine Place!”

“See, my left eye is blind,” said Vicky, lifting her shades to show her “disfigured eye,” the result of her operation for a benign tumor pushing into her eye and brain in 2004.

The beauteous Vicky, 74, now devotes her time to culture and the arts. She introduces herself as “the mother of Senator Migz Zubiri,” certainly proud of her children’s achievements. And that includes those of Stephanie, our food columnist.

“My struggles and equally my blessings made me realize that in life, beauty is less about us but more about how we make the rest of the world beautiful,” Vicky writes in her book.

Her classmate Conchitina, 73, famously walked the runway as a Pitoy Moreno model and was an elegant diplomat’s wife when her husband Lani Bernardo was Philippine Ambassador to Spain.

Now busy with Bb. Pilipinas Inc., Conchitina said that painting lessons at the Sunshine Place made her release her creative juices.

“Here, we paint together, laugh at each other’s stories, listen to concerts and join prayer groups — a great source of comfort and nourishment for my spirituality.”

While watching the seniors parade in a fashion show— some with the help of canes and walkers — I couldn’t help but leaf through the pages of their book, Finding the Sun.

It is a collection of life stories — of war-torn childhood years, career peaks, happy marriages and lost loves, health struggles and depression, and renewed faith.

I was eager to go home and read the stories, having seen what makes the place so sunshiny. I left the place of happiness just after sunset. I should say dinnertime. Because as the elevator guy said, there are no sunsets here.

Source: Philippine Star