Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the persons involved.
I have always had a special connection with older people, and wanted to volunteer my time to help out the elderly. So I rang up a local elder care facility to inquire about volunteering there. I originally said I would help with whatever was needed. I was told that, once I filled out paperwork, and the police background checks had come back, I would be contacted.
During induction, I casually mentioned to one of the coordinators that I was an artist. Her face lit up with a beaming smile, and said, “That’s great because I’m not creative. Do you want to run an art class instead?”
“I’d love to!” I chirped as we excitedly bounced ideas around. She then showed me the art and craft cupboard so I could see what materials they had. She also introduced me to some residents, asking if they would be interested in joining the group.
A few residents had shown keen interest in taking part so I started the group a few days later. I had previously run art classes for children so I started the group with an activity I had done with the kids in the past; air-dry clay, which was easier than having to use a kiln. After the clay had dried, we painted our designs, and mounted them on small canvases. The following week, I noticed them displayed in the glass cabinet of the community room.
“Look at your beautiful creations!” I would encouragingly say to the residents. Their prideful smiles revealed a great sense of accomplishment, seeing their wonderful creations perched proudly for admiring eyes to see.
Over the next few weeks, a regular group had formed and I could see the residents’ creativity flourish each time. Among the group was Marie, a former art teacher who was diagnosed with dementia. Despite her confusion, she produced remarkable artwork. Whether it be collating and creating a collage, or designing a jewelry box, Anne’s personality would transform from anxious to tranquil in moments.
Jean, who had only 10% eyesight, would chat and laugh while helping me cut out stencils, and Suzanne, who suffers bouts of depression at times, became elated by the end of each session.
What I observed within the group amid the chatter and laughter was that therapeutic art experiences supplied meaning and purpose to the lives these older adults in encouraging, nonthreatening ways. So, I looked into the subject further, and wrote an article titled Creativity and Health for Adventist Review.
Over time, I also felt a change within myself. For the past five years, I had been caring for my dad, who has dementia. Spending time with residents who have dementia helped me have compassion towards my father. One day after volunteering, I reflected on my day. When I arrived home, I gazed lovingly at the photos of him resting on the mantelpiece before dementia took over his mind, and penned a beautiful story titled A Change Within for Woman Alive.
Volunteering helped me, both professionally and personally. It can help you, too!
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Julie Guirgis is a freelance writer residing in Sydney, Australia. Her writing has appeared in several publications including Crixeo, Transition, Majellan, Madonna, Eureka St, The Nathaniel Report, Signs of the Times, Adventist Review, Significant Living, Caring Times, Vibrant Life, Alive Now, Now What?, Insight, Guide, The Aquarian, The Edge, Creation Illustrated, Kaleidoscope, Insights, Witty Bitches, Author’s Publish Magazine, Compass, Woman Alive, Spotlight on Recovery, Vita Bella, Unity, Coffee House for Writers, and Writer’s Weekly.
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