MoCA, PRA Group, Berger Goldrich Home Partner on Inter-Gen Program

MoCA’s Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art was the perfect backdrop for a coming together of generations on March 28.  Tidewater Arts Outreach arranged to have PRA Group associate volunteers use their service day to learn about, tour and create art with elders and caregivers from Beth Sholom Village Assisted Living.

The program started with 60-minute orientation for the twelve PRA Group associates, who ranged in age from 20 to 40-something.  We talked about our innate needs for creative self-expression and socialization and our ability to keep ‘childlike wonder’ intact.  We discussed how the arts can be used to realize functional, intellectual and emotional benefits.  We talked about dementia, including disease manifestations, considerations when speaking with elders, and the worthwhile benefits of creative engagement.

A dozen elders arrived by bus and slowly came into the bright lobby.  Several used wheelchairs and walkers.  All were delighted to be out and at an art museum, and full of anticipation for what lay ahead.  Some were bright, lively and conversant; others struggled with speech, hearing or other physical skills.  Beth Sholom caregivers were greeted; they looked on as PRA Group associates quickly paired off, as instructed, and our brief tour of three works began.

Facilitating artist Donna Iona Drozda teaches art to children at MoCA.  She also sits on Tidewater Arts Outreach’s advisory board.  Drozda took us to see three different pieces in the exhibit.  One was by Michael Janis’ Echoes, which spoke to the different faces we use with our different ‘audiences.’  Nods of appreciation and understanding went around the room.

The inter-generational group of two dozen next went to MoCA’s workshop space, where they created collages based on themes from the Mindful exhibit.  Working side by side with their buddies, the group happily spent an hour exploring shapes, colors and impressions from the day.

Post-surveys from the younger set showed that new learning and a greater appreciation for elders had begun.  “I enjoyed the art, the interaction with the elders and creating art.  It was a unique and wonderful experience.  It was a great opportunity to step away from the everyday and give back to others,” said Kristin, a PRA Group volunteer.

The elders loved the process and the attention, with survey notes ‘I liked making art with others,’ and ‘the helpful volunteers – hallelujiah!’    

We love inter-generational workshops as a tool for bringing diverse groups together helping develop a new appreciation, trust and respect for others.  Younger generations have so much to learn from elders, yet they are provided fewer opportunities as society moves ‘forward,’ we are finding.  The arts can be used to bridge gaps.  Meaningful conversations – who we are, where we’re from, where we’re going and what matters most to us – come out of arts engagement.  Arts can also level the playing field, bypassing weaknesses and playing to a person’s strengths.  It was just so, just as we knew it would be.