Shiny Brite gives La Jolla family its first Christmas tree in a decade

To brighten the holidays for seniors and those who are homebound, volunteers with the Shiny Brite program visit to decorate their Christmas trees. Shiny Brite helpers came to La Jolla recently to prepare a tree for the Riley family.

“A lot of elderly people don’t put a tree up because they don’t want to inconvenience their children or grandchildren by asking for help, yet these are the people who have some of the best Christmas memories,” said Paul Silvera, owner of the design firm and store, Scout, at Liberty Station (Point Loma), which founded and implements the Shiny Brite program, now in its second year.

Volunteers bring an artificial, pre-lit tree into a home and then retrieve boxes of ornaments from the basement, garage or attic to use on the tree — all free of charge.

“These ornaments represent a lifetime of memories for people ... their Christmases ... the things their children made ... the travels they’ve had. The items are a celebration of a life well-lived,” Silvera said.

Bridget Riley Santos nominated her parents, Bob and Frances Riley, for the Shiny Brite program because her ailing mother — the family’s holiday enthusiast — has not been able to decorate for many years.

“I think my mom was always the one who instigated pulling out the decorations and going to get the tree,” Riley said. But 10 years ago, her mother began losing her ability to “grasp words.” Although it took some time to diagnose, the family learned Frances has a rare condition called Primary Progressive Aphasia, which gradually diminishes one’s ability to speak, and leads to dementia. Frances has since lost her ability to walk, make major movements and care for herself.

“It’s probably been nine or 10 years since they’ve had a tree,” Riley said, adding that every now and again, she and her children would decorate a short tree with popcorn threads, so it could be easily discarded after the holidays.

This year, seeing the fully decorated tree again was a sight to behold for Riley and her father. She said many of the family decorations were collected on world travels and others were gifts from friends.

Riley pointed out one given to her mother by a friend from China that represented the Hmong culture. Bob said he is partial to a chili pepper ornament brought back from a trip to Mexico.

“Having not had this for so long,” Riley said, “I think it’s really great to have someone come in and do this for my parents.”

■ To nominate someone for next year’s program (or become a decorating volunteer), contact Scout at (619) 225-9925 or or search SCOUT @ Quarters D on Facebook.