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Volunteers with Dementia Improve the Lives of Those in Need

May 15, 2019

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See this linked KARE-11 broadcast, and this linked Sun Sailor article showing how older adults with dementia are defying stereotypes and creating work that benefits our community.

This past December, the chill air of winter felt just a little warmer for homeless veteran Alex Stenberg, who moved to a new, permanent residence in Hopkins, thanks to the Veterans Administration. Besides receiving furnishings and kitchenware from the Hopkins Elks, he found a decorative fleece blanket on his bed. The blanket was created by older adults attending Cassia’s Open Circle Adult Day Center in Hopkins, who face their own steep challenges with dementia or other chronic illness.

“It was so nice to see that people cared enough to take the time out of their day to help someone who is just starting out,” Stenberg said. “I use the blanket every night and it keeps me warm.”

At the annual Hopkins Empty Bowls event, which earns money for the local ICA food shelf and Resource West, hundreds of attendees entering the Hopkins Center for the Arts were greeted by a large, ornately designed piece of artwork. The mixed-media process painting appropriately titled Hidden Treasures was to be auctioned off that day, all proceeds benefiting the food shelf. The painting was created by Open Circle Adult Day program members.

Open Circle’s adult day programming is designed to promote independence and quality of life for its members through supportive, engaging experiences. Community life programming, which promotes active involvement through volunteerism and intergenerational opportunities, has taken on a greater emphasis at Open Circle in recent years

Each community initiative was developed and coordinated at Open Circle by two interns, Metro State University student Diane Dokken and Adler Graduate School student Caila Kritzeck. Through research, Diane Dokken learned that the Hopkins Elks Lodge’s was providing Welcome Home kits for newly housed veterans.  After reaching out to Elk Lodge Board Member Gretchen Peterson, Dokken thought tie blankets would be a homey addition to the lodge’s practical-minded kits and would provide an accessible art activity for participating members.

The Tie Blankets Project proved to be extremely successful. Open Circle members genuinely enjoyed the craft process, but knowing they were creating blankets to provide warmth and comfort to a local veteran elevated the entire activity. In fact, several of the participants were veterans themselves who typically avoided art programming.  

When members saw photos of Mr. Stenberg holding a tie blanket and wearing a large smile, their faces lit up with pride. For a group of individuals who so often define their current circumstances through a perception of limitation and loss, this moment was truly empowering. Open Circle now provides on-going volunteer support for the Elks, making tie blankets or putting together hygiene kits on site and at the Elks Lodge. 

Adler student Caila Kritzeck was already utilizing her considerable artistic skills to therapeutically engage Open Circle members when she learned of the annual Empty Bowls event. Inspired by Open Circle’s focus on community life, she visualized an opportunity for the adult day center to contribute through the donation of an art piece.

A mixed-media, process painting on a large canvas was an ideal solution. The large canvas would allow for many individuals to work on the piece at one time. The utilization of alternative mediums, such as gold leaf foil, pipe cleaners, feathers and string beads enhanced the interest level of the experience and supported it’s accessibility for individuals with poor fine motor control. 

After nearly two months, the painting, Hidden Treasures, was completed. At least 25 individuals took part, including members with highly progressed dementia. “The opportunity to contribute increased members’ sense of belonging and community feeling. I also believe it created feelings of mastery and self efficacy, which is important even in the later stages of life, and considering the losses experienced by those with dementia,” says Kritzeck. 

 Hidden Treasures was prominently displayed at the Empty Bowls event. The painting sold for one hundred dollars; all of which went to support the local ICA food shelf.  One of the bids came from the director of the ICA, who then commissioned another original Open Circle art piece for the organization’s lobby! 

“Working with Open Circle this year on our silent auction for our annual Empty Bowls event was such a pleasure,” says Kate Wilinski, Advancement Director at ICA Food Shelf. “The event brings in over 1,000 attendees and raises $70,000 for local families in need, with proceeds going to ICA Food Shelf and ResourceWest.  Open Circle participants worked hard for many weeks, and donated a truly beautiful collaborative painting to our auction.”

An additional result of this particular community life project was the development of a new partnership between Open Circle and the Eisenhower Community Center. Another student intern, Alyssa from North Hennepin, has since grown this relationship with Eisenhower into a multi-faceted partnership, offering intergenerational and volunteer opportunities for Open Circle’s members.  

To learn more about this unique volunteering program for people with dementia, or to interview the people involved in it, please contact Jenna at 612-238-8552 (direct) or 651-529-0090 (cell).

About Cassia: An Augustana/Elim Affiliate

Cassia’s mission is to foster fullness of life for older adults in the spirit of Christ’s love. In 2018, Augustana Care and Elim Care voluntarily joined together to form Cassia, reinforcing both organizations’ missions. The name “Cassia” ('KAS e– uh) was inspired by an anointing oil made from the bark of the Cassia tree. According to sources familiar with ancient oils, Cassia is said to symbolize the heart of a servant. In locations across five states, Cassia provides independent and assisted living communities, memory care settings, skilled nursing care centers, short-term rehabilitation centers, adult day programs and a variety of community-based services for older adults in a Christian tradition. Cassia strives to provide healing, compassion and renewal through serving all by following One.

 

About Augustana Open Circle

Augustana Open Circle’s adult day services help people with changing physical, cognitive and/or social abilities live more fully and enjoy authentic connections with others in structured, nurturing settings. With locations in Hopkins, Apple Valley and at the Cora McCorvey Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis, each center offers programs, recreation, personal care, respite and social connections to individuals with memory loss or other emotional or physical needs. Visit www.opencircle.org to learn more.