by Peter Reilly
Longwood mayor’s merry band of carolers bring comfort and joy
Every Christmas for the past 14 years, Longwood Mayor John Maingot’s gift has come without ribbons. It’s come without tags. It’s come without packages, boxes, or bags.
It’s come instead with carols. It’s come with good cheer. It’s come with music, laughter, and tears.
His gift is a day of holiday harmonies, performed by the Longwood Carolers at senior care facilities.
On one special Saturday each season, John and his volunteer carolers dress up in Santa hats and festive red and green apparel. Then they bring tidings of comfort and joy to elderly shut-ins.
“The people are so joyful and so happy to hear us sing,” says John. “They cry, men and women alike.”
The group’s itinerary includes stops at Chambrel, Serenades by Sonata, Longwood Health Care, South Seminole Hospital, and the Cornerstone.
John and the Longwood Carolers perform for the elderly of all faiths and welcome people of all faiths to sing with him. The song selection is also diverse, ranging from secular classics like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to Hanukkah hits such as “The Dreidel Song” and spiritual hymns like “Silent Night.”
This spirit of inclusiveness was part of John’s culture as a boy growing up in Trinidad, a country made up of many different people and religions. Christmas was always a special time of year for John. He fondly remembers caroling with family and friends. When he and his wife Elizabeth came to the United States, they brought the cherished tradition with them to Central Florida.
In 1999, John ran for a city commission seat in Longwood and won. He saw caroling as an opportunity to give back to the community that had supported him.
John was especially concerned for Longwood’s elderly population. During trips to about a dozen facilities as an elected official, he was stunned to discover that many residents had no visitors.
”Caroling was my way of saying to them, ‘You know what, folks? You matter,’” says John.
During a performance, seniors are encouraged to sing along, and carolers go into the audience to interact with the residents. After the show, the carolers spend time talking and listening to their new friends.
“The people feel that the human touch is there,” John says. “Not only have we brought the spirit of Christmas to them, we also brought a personal contact.”
The first year the Longwood Carolers went out singing was 2000. In the beginning, John’s group was made up of mostly friends and neighbors. But as time went on, John (the father of eight) turned to Lyman High School for volunteers. Lynne Taylor, Lyman’s music director, recruits many of her students to carol.
The carolers like it because they get to shine like new fallen snow. Performances are punctuated with solos by standout singers and musicians. But just about everyone gets a turn in the spotlight.
“I want everyone to feel that they belong,” John says.
Carolers get free cranberry juice to keep their vocal cords in shape, but their real reward is seeing the smiling faces in the audience.
“You have to see what transpires when we are singing to realize that these young people are so happy that they have brought joy to so many people who might otherwise have been stuck in their rooms watching television,” says John. “The meaning of Christmas is reaching out to people and sharing the love of the season with them. To bring them joy and to bring them happiness. And to reestablish meaningful relationships.”
If you would like to sing with the Longwood Carolers this season, you must attend a practice session before the event. Contact Mayor John Maingot at JMaingot@LongwoodFl.org