Friends Home in Kennett has made a commitment to serving Friends with care and enabling relationships to grow. Through a creative program of Performing Arts, their staff has created an enriching opportunity for their residents to reach others’ hearts through music. Last year, the PYM Aging Assistance Granting Group (AAGG) awarded Friends Home in Kennett a grant to be used by their activities staff for their needs. In this article, Wright Horne reports on the activities, thoughts behind their programming, and the residents’ responses.
We had been following strict protocols during COVID, which often meant limiting contact with visitors and outside performers, and limiting trips off-campus to avoid contact with others in the community. Even today, when we detect a positive COVID reading by staff or residents, we cannot conduct activities face to face.
But our intrepid Community Life Associate for Performance Arts, Brenten Megee, was not to be deterred! He put our laptops and tablets to good use, and held choir practices for our residents remotely, and arranged for long-distance seminars and programs by his contacts in the performance world. The Zoom practices paid off with YouTube performances.
An example is the 4th of July celebration that featured a special Zoom performance of patriotic songs. The singers? The residents sitting in their rooms in front of their laptops and tablets, and all following the conducting lead of our Performance Arts Associate, all displayed on a large screen and available in streaming mode. The streaming link was sent far and wide, to family, friends, and supporters. It was quite impressive!
The AAGG grant was used to help support his role here at Friends Home and for the extra gadgets needed for his work with the residents.
The Beginnings of the Performance Arts Program
Before the AAGG grant, Friends Home in Kennett contracted with Philly Senior Stage (PSS) to come to Friends Home and produce a musical review using our residents as performers. PSS brought what was needed as far as professional accompaniment, equipment, directors for the rehearsals and the performance, and we supplied the actors/singers from the resident population and the space. No experience required!
What we observed was transformational for the participants. Residents naturally became engaged – joking, laughing, and were able to remember cues and lines. We then understood that the “juice“ from performing could actually make changes in a person’s outlook, and after some study, we came to believe that this would slow the effects of aging on the mind. Since then, we instituted our Performance Arts Program for Seniors and now we are even more sure that it is beneficial in that regard.
After we developed the Program guidelines, we began looking for funding. We are tightly budgeted, and any new program or project requires us to look outside our regular operational revenue stream for assistance.
We communicated with Susan W. Hoskins, LCSW, Executive Director of Friends Foundation for the Aging, and Susan and her organization were very helpful in getting us started both with finances and with astute observations and helpful comments.
Further, during the various COVID lockdowns we have had to deal with, Performance Arts has been a great relief to those who can participate. When things are a bit more relaxed, residents look forward to the times when they can leave their rooms, and observing social distancing, etc., can continue with their opportunities to perform. Since residents and staff are fully vaccinated, we have begun to return to more group singing and performing.
When things are a bit less relaxed, our Performance Arts Associate has created some very imaginative ways to blend technology with traditional performing methods by using tablets, laptops, and the ubiquitous Zoom.
Our Performance Arts Program provides an opportunity for our residents to perform at whatever level and scale they are comfortable with. Our Performance Arts Associate instructs on a variety of musical instruments, coaches and rehearses residents, organizes group performance activities, and acts as a cheerleader to get residents who might be otherwise reluctant to commit to performing. The benefits of the Program only accrue if the residents are involved in performance arts activities, so cheerleading is vital.
Over time, we expect to see a decrease in loneliness, and an increase in participation in activities. Changes in cognitive decline are harder to measure, and measurements of this are mostly anecdotal and subjective.
Every new resident is interviewed to determine previous performance experience, to outline the program and the opportunities to them, and to ask how they might want to be involved. Isolation is a big problem with aging seniors. Many come to us having lived alone, or having been left alone during the day while others in the household go off to their activities. So, we work to reduce isolation. – marking when a resident doesn’t come to activities, etc.
Friends Home in Kennett staff and residents have discovered a way To Brighten Their Days! We hope we’ve brightened yours!
This article is part of the To Brighten Your Day series: stories that explore the lives of our aging community members in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.