Juniper Homecare, which has made its home in West Hartford for 25 years, has unveiled the latest mural on their New Britain Avenue headquarters building.
By Ronni Newton
Over the course of the past few years, Juniper Homecare has been adding murals to each side of their building at 1100 New Britain Avenue, but the murals are about much more than beautifying an otherwise bland façade.
Local artist Ben Keller has created all of the murals, with plenty of input from the Brel family that own’s Juniper Homecare, and the most recent is called “Family Caregiving: A Mural of Love.” Love, compassion, and family are at the core of 25-year-old company’s mission.
Since 1998, Juniper Homecare has been providing resources to assist those who take care of their loved ones, and other services that all the elderly to age in place.
The company provides home- and community-based care for the elderly. They operate four adult day centers (ib West Hartford, Hartford, and New Britain); serve about 1,500 meals every day throughout the Greater Hartford area as part of a meals on wheels program; offer homecare, companion, and chore services throughout Greater Hartford; and manage a statewide adult family caregiving program.
The Mural of Love depicts the real people who work as caregivers for a diverse cross-section of the community.
Dennis House of WTNH emceed the dedication of the mural during a ceremony held on Oct. 3 – a celebration that also marked the company’s 25th anniversary and recognized several of their employees for outstanding service.
“All I can say is that they are an American success story,” House said of the Brel family, who immigrated to the U.S. from Belarus in the early 1990s. He’s known the family personally for many years, and praised their dedication to helping the community.
“Getting older is not easy, and some people need help at home, and Juniper has stepped in to do that,” House told the group gathered for the celebration.
Mayor Shari Cantor and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz were among the speakers at the celebration, along with Keller (the artist who created the mural), and Javier Colon – a West Hartford resident and singer/songwriter who was winner of the inaugural season of “The Voice” and whose image is on one of the other murals Keller painted on the building.
“This whole building is a mural building,” Brel said. “When we created the first West Hartford mural, it wasn’t an easy job for us because you try to be inclusive.” Historian Tracey Wilson, Cantor, and others provided suggestions of the imagery to honor past and present in that mural, which includes historical images of Charles Beach, a horse representing the Charter Oak racetrack, Colon, and Lhakpa Sherpa, the West Hartford resident who holds the world record for the most successful summits of Mount Everest by a woman.
“The idea for the mural of love came from the work we are doing with Juniper,” said Brel. The idea came from a simple need. “Some community members needed a service that wasn’t available,” he said. He began with providing a safe space and meals for residents from the Russian-Jewish community, and expanded to meal programs, and then to one of the first programs in Connecticut to provide training and financial support for family caregivers.
“I’m so proud of him as a human, as a business person. He exudes appreciation, creativity, passion – everything that is right and right with the world, Andrei encompasses,” Cantor said. When the town granted permission for the establishment of the first adult daycare center, Cantor said her mom was 70. Now her mom is 95, Cantor said, and as she often juggles her schedule to provide assistance to her mother she fully appreciates the role of family caregivers and others who support the aging population and ensuring that they are able to live with dignity.
“This new program recognizes the impact on family … and what they need to do,” Cantor said. “Nothing is more important in the human condition than giving back to other people,” and caregivers are really the ones who deserve our thanks.
Bysiewicz has also become a dear friend, Brel said as he introduced the lieutenant governor. “What I love about Andrei is his energy, his enthusiasm. He is just passionate about what he does and he exudes it … and thank goodness because Andrei came to this beautiful community of West Hartford and immediately recognized a need.”
The people who work at Juniper treat their clients like family “and that mural reflects the philosophy of Juniper and the feeling that you get when you’re here and when you’re around Andrei,” Bysiewicz said.
She also praised Keller, whose work she discovered by chance years ago when she saw one of the murals he created in Windham.
Keller said the most recent mural was painted in the heat of last summer, and it took three or four weeks. “Usually I’ll prepare a digital rendering of my images or of the sketch, and transpose that on top of the wall,” he said, to give the client a vision. In this case, he free-handed the portraits, and then added the text. “Lots of layering,” he said.
“I thought it was really cool, working with Andrei over the last few years,” Keller said, as he started with one mural and wrapped it around the building.
Rosa Cruz-LaRosa, a nurse and the AFL director at Juniper Homecare, handed out certificates of recognition to several caregivers and nurses for exceptional service. “T0 see the love between the families and the support that they give is truly something that is amazing,” she said.
The official celebration concluded with Colon’s rendition of “Time After Time,” the song that he sang for his audition of “The Voice” in 2011.
Guests were also able to sample some of the exceptional food provided to clients through Juniper’s meal service.
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